Posted 6 years ago on Feb. 25, 2014, 2:48 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Privacy as the New Free-Trade Zone of Corporate Exploitation
Tuesday, 25 February 2014 10:16 By Fred Guerin, Truthout | Op-Ed
Global surveillance is not only an unnecessary, unconstitutional infringement on our private lives, a violation of the boundaries between the private and the public, but also the precondition for totalitarian control, writes Fred Guerin.
Imagine the digital world as something like a grand apartment complex. Even though dwellers live in separate apartments, they are all connected because they all live in the same building. Now imagine that there existed an authorized government that employed countless thousands of individuals called the TESO (Thought Enforcement and Surveillance Officers) who were given a master key and instructed to enter every apartment on a daily basis. Upon accessing each apartment, the TESO would isolate and restrain or handcuff the individual apartment dweller and proceed to thoroughly search through every room and closet, inspect every drawer and cupboard, read every note, diary or document. They would do this not because the apartment dwellers were suspected of committing a crime, or because they were deemed to pose a threat to the stability of the state or society. The sole purpose of this thoroughgoing invasion into private life would be to create a PCP or pre-crime-profile. This profile would be constantly updated and preserved for easy access at a moment's notice should any future aberrant or unorthodox behavior be displayed by anyone in the apartment.
This analogy loosely drawn from George Orwell's 1984 and Philip K. Dick's Minority Report is disturbing precisely because it graphically illustrates how profoundly unethical, unconstitutional and illegal it would be to impose a regime of intrusive unwarranted surveillance for the purpose of gathering intelligence - not defense, counterterrorist or counterespionage intelligence, but human intelligence, as such.
Now it seems obvious that we should feel just as violated, just as vulnerable and just as outraged when we are being surveilled online as we would if the police came bursting through our door . . .
We can certainly draw distinctions between different kinds of human intelligence data - between physical or digital information, descriptive or visual data, and data about the structures that contain data (also referred to as metadata). However, more importantly, what we must take note of is not the differences between different kinds of data or intelligence, but the potential that we now have for digitally warehousing and cross-referencing many levels of data for future use (either benign or malevolent).
Now it seems obvious that we should feel just as violated, just as vulnerable and just as outraged when we are being surveilled online as we would if the police came bursting through our door to look around our house or apartment for no reason other than that they wanted to collect as much information on us as possible. That we are not similarly outraged about unethical and unconstitutional surveillance practices has a lot to do with the fact that many of these surveillance devices are woven into the fabric of our consumerist culture. We cheerfully line up for the chance to be the first to buy the latest iPhone; we readily give up personal and even intimate details about ourselves online, and we feel the urge to constantly text friends and relations regarding the trivial events of the day. In all of this, there is a certain willful ignorance of the fact that digital information is accessible to anyone, and it forms a fairly intimate picture of us over time.
However, our lack of moral outrage is not merely a function of the fact that surveillance devices are ubiquitous, fashionable or appeal to what has become an excessively narcissistic culture; it is also a consequence of a very secretive and gradually more elaborate surveillance industry that we really know very little about. The exemplar here is the five-eyes alliance that has developed over time between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the United States. In each of these countries, so-called democratically elected governments have autocratically and secretly given themselves a kind of invasive power that is typically reserved for despots and dictators who rule citizens in a police state.
Fortunately, the secretive nature of government surveillance programs is not as secret as it once was. Their collective cover has been blown by Edward Snowden and become widely known through the work of intrepid activist reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. The global surveillance system has been uncovered for what it is: an unnecessary, unconstitutional infringement on the private lives of citizens. The outrage is only just beginning. However, if it has become clear that public consciousness has now been raised and questions are being asked by many citizens, academics and journalists as to why such a scenario should ever be considered normal or necessary, it is very unclear whether the governments involved have been shamed into any admission that what they are doing is inherently wrong or unwarranted. In fact, there is evidence to suggest something quite the contrary: that intrusive surveillance of the private lives of citizens will continue and, in fact, become more elaborate and sophisticated. For the foreseeable future, this sort of surveillance will be woven into a powerful and complex legal-corporate matrix that will guarantee our private lives will never again be private in the way they once were.
The global surveillance system has been uncovered for what it is: an unnecessary, unconstitutional infringement on the private lives of citizens.
One might be tempted to insist that the reason for this new emphasis on surveillance is a consequence of the devastating and unprecedented attack of September 11, 2001. Others might argue that it is because total surveillance technologies are possible in a way they have never before been. Both of these claims have some truth. But both are also symptomatic of a much more elemental cause that goes to the heart of where we have been heading for the last 60 or so years. This elemental cause reaches beyond mere technological advancement or terrorist threat to something much more primitive and destructive: an entrenched and ubiquitous corporate capitalist system of profit and exploitation. The latter is something that can be uncovered only by grasping the continuous and relentless demise of democratic public spaces, the conversion of citizens into consumers, the need to protect and enhance the profits of a very small minority and the complete colonization of the ecosystem and any human potential for creative, life-sustaining activity.
However, we may still want to ask here: What is the precise connection between human surveillance, the collection of different forms of data and metadata, and a system of corporate capitalism? Many have argued that the increasing push to collect private information or metadata is for the sake of our national security, and only secondarily, about commercial interests. However, this line of argument would be much more persuasive if the boundary between government and corporate interests were clear and unambiguous. It is not. In fact, as corporate capitalism becomes globalized, the distinction between government power and corporate power is all but erased.
Privacy in this view is the indispensible space of possibility where we develop and nurture intimate relations with family and loved ones, away from public scrutiny or the prying eyes of government institutions
Given this, it is not difficult to imagine that the surveillance infrastructure designed and built by powerful communications and tech industries, and implemented and enforced by way of government institutions and bureaucratic systems, would tend to serve the interests of the corporation first and foremost, with governments playing a parasitic or subsidiary role. To properly address the question of whether government or corporate interests are at the center, we need to first think about how to visualize or articulate the boundary between public and private.
Perhaps there was a time before the advance of intrusive technologies, when this boundary was easily identifiable and embraced as a necessary division between what is publicly known and shared and what is private and intimate. Privacy in this view is the indispensible space of possibility where we develop and nurture intimate relations with family and loved ones, away from public scrutiny or the prying eyes of government institutions. It is the place where we are encouraged to develop a unique sense of who we are without feeling the pressure to entirely conform to an imposed social, religious or cultural directive. It is a site of human freedom and indeterminacy, where we are still open to transformation and still grappling with who we have been, who we are and who we want to be. Paradoxically, privacy is also a prerequisite for reflecting upon what brings us together, on what distinguishes us, but also what we have in common. This private space of reflection and contemplation is where we begin to develop a sense of thinking from the perspective of another person or of a world outside, separate from us yet intimately and necessarily connected to us. It is the origin of what we might call a private-public moral consciousness.