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<nettime> Suzanne Moore: When states monitored their citizens we used to
Patrice Riemens on Fri, 5 Jul 2013 06:27:02 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Suzanne Moore: When states monitored their citizens we used to

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When states monitored their citizens we used to call them authoritarian.
Now we think this is what keeps us safe

The internet is being snooped on and CCTV is everywhere. How did we come
to accept that this is just the way things are?

By Suzanne Moore  The Guardian, Wednesday 3 July 2013

America controls the sky. Fear of what America might do can make countries
divert planes ? all because Edward Snowden might be on one.

Owning the sky has somehow got to me more than controlling the internet.
Maybe because I am a simpleton and sometimes can only process what I can
see ? the actual sky, rather than invisible cyberspace in which data blips
through fibre-optic cables.

Thus the everyday internet remains opaque to all but geeks. And that's
where I think I have got it wrong. My first reaction to the Prism leaks
was to make stupid jokes: Spies spy? Who knew? The fact that Snowden
looked as if he came from central casting didn't help. Nor did the
involvement of Julian Assange, a cult leader who should be in Sweden
instead of a cupboard in an embassy.

What I failed to grasp, though, was quite how much I had already
surrendered my liberty, not just personally but my political ideals about
what liberty means. I simply took for granted that everyone can see
everything and laughed at the idea that Obama will be looking at my
pictures of a cat dressed as a lobster. I was resigned to the fact that
some random FBI merchant will wonder at the inane and profane nature of my
drunken tweets.

Slowly but surely, The Lives of Others have become ours. CCTV cameras
everywhere watch us, so we no longer watch out for each other. Public
space is controlled. Of course, much CCTV footage is never seen and often
useless. But we don't need the panopticon once we have built one in our
own minds. We are all suspects.

Or at least consumers. iTunes thinks I might like Bowie; Amazon thinks I
want a compact tumble dryer. Really? Facebook seems to think I want to
date men in uniform. I revel in the fact that the algorithms get it as
wrong as the man who knocks on my door selling fish out of a van. "And not
just fish," as he sometimes says mysteriously.

But how did I come to accept that all this data gathered about me is just
the way it is? Wasn't I once interested in civil liberties? Indeed,
weren't the Lib Dems? Didn't freedom somehow incorporate the idea of
individual privacy? When the state monitored all its citizens as though
they were suspects ? whether in East Germany or North Korea ? we called it
authoritarianism. Now we think it is what keeps us safe.

In 2009 I sat on a panel with Vince Cable at the cross-party Convention on
Modern Liberty. Cable told us that a recession could provide the
preconditions for fascism. Gosh, I thought, that's a bit strong. Then the
recession hit and austerity became the narrative that subsumed all debates
about freedom. No one poor is free, and it is no coincidence that the poor
are the most snooped on of all.

What Snowden, who is no spy, has revealed is the nature of the game: that
surveillance is a huge private industry; that almost full control of the
internet has been achieved already; that politicians here and in the US
have totally acquiesced to industrial-scale snooping. There is a
generation now made up of people who will never have had a private
conversation online or by phone. These are my children. And should they or
anyone else want to organise against the powers that be, they will be
traceable. We have sleepwalked into this because liberty remains such an
alien concept, still. But the US has the fourth amendment: "The right of
the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizure, shall not be violated."

It has been violated. Bradley Manning is in prison, Guantánamo remains
open, CIA agents who spoke out about waterboarding are banged up. And
there are other kinds of whistleblowers who conveniently kill themselves.
The letter from Daniel Somers, who served in Iraq, says he was made to do
things he could not live with. He described his suicide as a mercy killing
and reminded us that 22 veterans kill themselves every day. This is not
whistleblowing. It is screaming into a void.

But we remain passive while other European countries are angry at what
Snowden has told us. We maintain the special relationship. For Snowden,
the truth will not set him free, it will imprison him for ever. We now
debate whether we should exchange liberty for security, but it is too
late. As John Locke said: "As soon as men decide all means are permitted
to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil
they set out to destroy." He could have been talking about our passivity.

When did you surrender your freedom to communicate, something that was
yours and yours alone, whether an email to a lover or a picture of your
child? Ask yourself, do you feel safer now you know that you have no
secrets? Now, the intimacies that are of no import to anyone but you have
been subject to virtual extraordinary rendition. Because, fundamentally,
your government does not trust you. Why therefore should you trust it?

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