If you look at what people were saying about the Internet in general, say 15 or 20 years ago, in terms of its promise, it was incredibly wide-ranging, from political liberation to eliminating economic inequality to just individual growth. It was literally conceived of as — I don’t mean by the people who created it, but by the people who started using it — as this instrument of personal and political freedom.
And I think the surveillance state is not only threatening to undermine that promise but to completely reverse it, so that as we do more and more on the Internet, as we live more on the Internet, as we engage in more activity on the Internet — all of which we’re doing — states are exercising more and more control over the Internet, and especially monitoring over the Internet, and that means this instrument is being degraded from what its promise was, which was an instrument of freedom, into probably the worst means of — the most effective means of — human control and oppression ever known in human history, because there never existed a technology before to allow people’s every thought and word and conversation and interest and reading and just interest level and fears to be comprehensively chronicled in the way that the surveillance state allows.
And there’s an irony to the fact that this technology that once held such great promise in these areas is now posing the greatest threat to those same values. But I think that’s how all technological innovation ultimately ends up being fought over — that any technology can undermine the interests of the prevailing power factions and therefore it’s targeted for co-option by those same power factions, to prevent it from being used as a challenge against them, and ultimately to be used to further shield their power from challenge. And I think that’s exactly the battle we face when it comes to Internet freedom.
Do people in Silicon Valley realize the mess that they are dragging us into? I doubt it. The “invisible barbed wire” remains invisible even to its builders. Whoever is building a tool to link MOOCs to biometric identification isn’t much concerned with what this means for our freedoms: “freedom” is not their department, they are just building cool tools for spreading knowledge!
This is where the “digital debate” leads us astray: it knows how to talk about tools but is barely capable of talking about social, political, and economic systems that these tools enable and disable, amplify and pacify. When these systems are once again brought to the fore of our analysis, the “digital” aspect of such tool-talk becomes extremely boring, for it explains nothing. Deleuze warned of such tool-centrism back in 1990:
One can of course see how each kind of society corresponds to a particular kind of machine – with simple mechanical machines corresponding to sovereign societies, thermodynamic machines to disciplinary societies, cybernetic machines and computers to control societies. But the machines don’t explain anything, you have to analyze the collective arrangements of which the machines are just one component.
In the last two decades, our ability to make such connections between machines and “collective arrangements” has all but atrophied.
The Guardian has served us all well by drawing attention day after day to the excesses of spying on individuals and of mass surveillance practised by GCHQ and the US National Security Agency, revealed in the secret material made available by Edward Snowden (GCHQ fears challenge over mass spying, leak reveals, 26 October).
In a world of sophisticated global organised crime, terrorism both imported and home-grown, and trafficking of children and modern slaves, I recognise the need for intelligence agencies. Undoubtedly their work has unearthed criminal gangs and terrorist plots, and we have reason to be grateful for that.
But Snowden’s revelations show a deeply troubling imbalance between their operations and the respect for individual liberty and personal privacy that citizens of a democracy are entitled to enjoy. I congratulate the government on the new powers it has given to the intelligence and security committee of parliament, which has one of the most thoughtful and impressive MPs as its chairman. But it needs to exercise detailed oversight of an intelligence structure that is running out of control, and badly needs a dose of political common sense.
Within the next few years an important threshold will be crossed: For the first time ever, it will become technologically and financially feasible for authoritarian governments to record nearly everything that is said or done within their borders – every phone conversation, electronic message, social media interaction, the movements of nearly every person and vehicle, and video from every street corner. Governments with a history of using all of the tools at their disposal to track and monitor their citizens will undoubtedly make full use of this capability once it becomes available.
But more to the point, “The Circle” doesn’t read like a novel whose author immersed himself in the nitty-gritty of day-to-day life in Silicon Valley. It reads like a novel whose author deeply dislikes current modes of online social interaction, and constructed a narrative to deliver that antipathy as harshly as possible. In “The Boy Kings of Silicon Valley,” Losse contributes something very different — a nuanced, closely observed look at the real lives of hackers and the tools they create that tells us more about what Facebook is like than any other book on the company has yet achieved. If Eggers had truly plagiarized Losse, he might have written a better book, the great Silicon Valley/American novel that we’ve all been waiting for.
Because to stand athwart history and cry “Stop” is never enough, something that the inheritors of William Buckley’s legacy have so obviously failed to learn. We’re going to continue tumbling forward, and if we have any hope of steering in the right direction, we need to know more than just why everything is so bad and awful and dangerous. We need to know what’s pushing us forward, what needs and desires we are trying to sate. There’s more going on here than the indulgence of a manipulated craving for snack food. We’re hungry for connection. We live for it.
“You can teach yourself everything there is to be learned by observing, asking, taking things apart and putting them back together again. Teachers can help with that process as long as they stay credible. The only way to achieve that is to keep on learning themselves.”—Erik Spiekermann (via Dan Hill)
… you are left not with the question of whether there is a meaningful definition of English culture, but the problem of which definition to choose.
Is it the “deep England” of the countryside, the Anglican church or, indeed, the Archers? Or the England of the freeborn radical, the Levellers, Chartists, Tolpuddle martyrs and suffragettes? Is it urban, working-class England in its various, and sometimes contradictory, manifestations, from pubs and the music hall to northern non-conformity (and comedy)? Or love of the language and its literature (and, if so, is that devalued by a more internationalist attitude to art forms that don’t bump up against the English incapacity to speak foreign languages)? And is celebrating England as a place that is open and welcoming to outsiders – admirable and often true – really a definition of what is particular to its character?
The truth is that most Englishnesses – including those listed above – are records not of consensus but contest, then and now. Today’s working-class culture is what survived a largely English government’s assault on its workplaces, its institutions and its communities. The Countryside Alliance was not set up to challenge European or Scottish prejudice against killing small animals, but against urban England. Fans don’t complain about the Archers becoming too much like Australian or Brazilian soaps, but too much like EastEnders or Emmerdale. And, of course, the rights of the freeborn English were not won from the French or German governments but from other English people who devoted the full resources of the British state to denying them.
So the problem with the question at the heart of the debate – the ringing, historically charged “Who speaks for England?” – isn’t just a natural suspicion of any question to which the answer might be Boris Johnson. It’s a matter of which England is being talked about, and whether any of those possible Englands have sufficient coherence to trump both what separates some English residents from others, and the growing divisions within England itself.
But does not, though the name Parliament subsists, the parliamentary debate go on now, everywhere and at all times, in a far more comprehensive way, out of Parliament altogether? Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact,—very momentous to us in these times. Literature is our Parliament too. Printing, which comes necessarily out of Writing, I say often, is equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable. Writing brings Printing; brings universal everyday extempore Printing, as we see at present. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures. the requisite thing is, that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite. The nation is governed by all that has tongue in the nation: Democracy is virtually there. Add only, that whatsoever power exists will have itself, by and by, organized; working secretly under bandages, obscurations, obstructions, it will never rest till it get to work free, unencumbered, visible to all. Democracy virtually extant will insist on becoming palpably extant.
Mass surveillance is a serious threat to the constitutionally protected function of a free press, and therefore to democracy itself, because it impinges on the ability and confidence of every possible source who might talk to a journalist. We need clear, public law which protects ordinary citizens from unaccountable intrusions into their private communications, no matter how those communications were obtained. We need a full accounting of what has been done and what is being done, and why, and whether it is necessary and effective. We have heard many assurances from the government that there is no abuse; but we do not need assurances, we need rights.
“The surveillance of whole populations, rather than individuals, threatens to be the greatest human rights challenge of our time,” Snowden, via Radack, continued. “The success of economies in developed nations relies increasingly on their creative output, and if that success is to continue, we must remember that creativity is the product of curiosity, which in turn is the product of privacy.”
Asked whether the United States’s promiscuous surveillance was setting a harmful example for other nations, Hayden suggested that the Internet’s origins in the United States partially justifies the NSA’s conduct. If the Web lasts another 500 years, he said, it may be the thing the United States is remembered for “the way the Romans are remembered for their roads.”
"We built it here, and it was quintessentially American," he said, adding that partially due to that, much of traffic goes through American servers where the government "takes a picture of it for intelligence purposes." …
Hayden also conceded that the United States “could be fairly charged with the militarization of the World Wide Web.”
… given what we now know about the capabilities of the NSA and GCHQ, I don’t think any journalist could now, in good faith, give an undertaking of confidentiality to any source with whom s/he communicated electronically.