Directly Not to Our Knowledge

The President and others have tried to justify the NSA’s spying efforts as necessary parts of the so-called war on terror. While their intentions may be good (for the most part), it easy enough for such systems to spiral beyond the control or original intentions of any one contributor. In the interview with Snowden that Glenn Greenwald et alia at the Guardian released today, he describes being concerned not with the current present use to which the existing intelligence infrastructure has been put but to the “architecture of oppression” (around 6:50 minutes) that it puts in place and that will only become less assailable or reversible in the future—like a metastasizing cancer. We’re on the road to “turnkey totalitarianism” when its as easy for a future government to spy on anyone (the distinction between domestic and foreign doesn’t have much purchase anymore, as the “incidental” vacuuming up of Americans’ personal data by Prism reveals) for whatever motive as it is for a user of OS X’s “Time Machine” to flip the (software) switch that turns on their backup software.

Information processing technology has finally pervaded our lives enough and become fast enough to make the “control revolution,” which historian/sociologist James Beniger traces to that primitive 19th century technology—the form—and the machines designed to process them en masse, one that encompasses even the most banal corners of daily life.

Not that I am claiming such technologies are inherently evil, authoritarian, or other such black word. To make such a claim misunderstands such technologies are always components of larger systems. In this case, Snowden sees the system veering toward oppression. These leaked documents have finally made (more of) the complacent citizenry cognizant of the ease with which such technologies of surveillance make a corralled and neutered society possible. We’re already such a society if the so-called discussion about privacy and security until this point has decided that an individual’s right to purchase a weapon without adequate background checks or even registering that weapon with the Federal government is more sacroscant that our right not have our email, phone calls, pictures, etc. stored in a top-secret desert data center. Firearms killed 11,078 Americans in 2010 alone.

When we’re serious about discussing the trade-offs between privacy and security, we’ll hopefully be as reasonable as this interview from the excellent Philosophy Bites series


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