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<nettime> So, What Do We Do Now? Living in a Post-Snowden World
michael gurstein on Thu, 2 Jan 2014 10:16:08 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> So, What Do We Do Now? Living in a Post-Snowden World

Blogpost (with links): 


So, What Do We Do Now? Living in a Post-Snowden World 

Michael Gurstein

Posted on January 1, 2014

As the avalanche of Snowden revelations resumes after it's brief
organizational regrouping and holiday hiatus a few learnings and even
more direct and pertinent questions are starting to emerge.

Evegeny Morozov in an otherwise interesting piece in the Financial
Times is surely incorrect in his bald statement that "Snowden now
faces a growing wave of surveillance fatigue among the public". The
emotion isn't "surveillance fatigue" but rather shell shock at the
revelations as they keep coming, in wave after uncomfortable wave.
The first reaction of course was shock (and awe), the second was a
feeling of anger and rising resistance; but as the revelations have
kept coming, each one more disturbing than the last; but now shifting
from pointing to quantity of surveillance (everything, everyone,
everywhere, forever), to quality (from metadata to communications
content to networking to instantaneous full-spectrum profiling). The
emotion is now-what on earth can we do-this is impossible, democracy
or even any form of popular sovereignty is at immediate risk, but what
on earth can we do?

The techies who started off shocked and appalled and over-all angry
(at feeling personally and professionally betrayed) and vowing (or
at least those whose organizational or corporate affiliations didn't
leave them irretrievably compromised) vowed to fight back and there
were heated discussions in various tech forums of various technical
strategies for turning the surveillance tide.

But the revelations have just kept on coming and the tech community
like everyone else recognizes the scope and depth and ultimately
overwhelming power of an agency with access to the full might and
resources of the richest, most powerful country on earth led by a
President who himself seems to be either in thrall of the surveillance
machine or indentured to it for reasons we may never know. They, now
equally stand blinded by the headlights of a headlong careening tank,
are recognizing with appalled self-incriminations what a horror they
have allowed and contributed to being born.

Quite clearly technical solutions won't work (or at least won't scale)
if the dominant power doesn't want it to work, and anyway who would
trust that anti-surveillance solutions were working after all we know
of how the corporate sector and the tech community has been (willingly
or or no) brought in as semi-aware co-conspirators.

And by now, it appears reasonably evident (based on the overall
indifference to doing anything much by the political masterclass in
DC and elsewhere) up and down the decision tree and including its
FiveEyes handmaidens, that the decisions have been made not only that
resistance measures won't be allowed to work but that they will be
actively resisted and "attacked" with all the forces and resources
that have already gone into building the existing machine.

Even the corporate sector (US) has become extremely uneasy at
the damage that has and is being done to their reputation for
trustworthiness and reliability and with that damage would appear to
be escalating costs and penalties.

Even the cyber-libertarian pro-US chorus has gone silent -
recognizing as they had no choice but to do, the most fundamental of
contradictions between freedom and surveillance. Some of course, are
opting for the. "but your guys are worse" argument (but without having
any idea of whether there is any 'your' as in "your guys" anywhere to
speak of). Is anybody anywhere (except in Fox News fantasies) coming
to the support of Russia or China or Saudi Arabia as an alternative in
all of this.

And of course, the cyber crowd has spent the last 20 years
systematically denigrating and tossing rocks into the spokes of
any regulatory or governance vehicle that might, however remotely,
be able to mount a framework that could tame the surveillance
juggernaut.So, at the end of the day who is there to call when there
is an existential threat to the very foundation of Western values and
democratic processes. Ghost Busters? Even they seem too busy warding
off other threats from "real" aliens to the existential well-being of
the Western world.

The international community might, just might be able to do something,
if they were to gang up on the US (as seemed possible, if only
briefly, following President Rousseff's speech to the UN General
Assembly). But as "saner heads" and diplomats are coming into the game
that seems to be fading into the dusty hallways of the UN, likely
never to be heard from again.

There is still some hope from President Rousseff's meeting in Brazil
in April but the apparent lacklustre interest from other of the
world's leaders - they themselves presumably being compromised up the
yin yang and in their hearts having as little interest in retaining
even the possibility of a functioning democracy as those Stasi folks
in the NSA and surrounds; alongside the ceding of a co-management role
in the conference to ICANN, itself a potentially compromised player in
the global Internet governance (if not directly surveillance) game;
leaves the responsibility of making an effective case on behalf of
global democracy to Civil Society and the Technical Community both
of which themselves have yet to have fully (or in most instances
even partially) redeemed themselves let alone publicly turned their
back on their full-throated (and deeply misguided) alliance with
the US and its allies in the "Internet Freedom" crusade at the 2012
Internet Governance Forum and the World Conference on International
Telecommunications (WCIT); this "crusade" in retrospect seemingly
at least circumstantially to have been a tactic to ensure that all
possible opposition to Internet mass surveillance was made either
unlikely or ineffective.

Let's be clear. We are talking about the future of the world as
we have come to believe it might be-democratic, with freedom of
expression and of thought, with an openness to popularly initiated
and supported change, with increasing accountability and transparency
of the governors to the governed, where governmental as other action
is responsive to the rule of law and all the other things that the
various Western government sponsored training programs in democracy go
on about at such considerable length. Whether it will become a version
of Orwell's 1984 (some already think we are over that edge).

Whether we will live in a world where one country and its 5 allies
have access to all worthwhile information which allows them to
control any possibility of dissent (even before it happens), control
the inputs into and outputs from elections or any form of political
campaign, control financial markets and bank accounts, control
the behaviour of individuals and ultimately groups and that's for
starters-those are things we can interpolate based on what we know,
not as would surely be more realistic, interpolating from what else
we can foresee-these guys as we all know, have access to effectively
unlimited financial resources and the brainpower that goes with it.

Most certainly this is not Lenin's question "What is to be done" which
was rhetorical (he already knew very well what had to be done and had
the will to find (seize) and apply the resources to do it). No, our
question is much more problematic-we don't know what to do, and we
clearly don't have the will or the resources to do it even if we knew
what the solution was.

Over it all of course, there is the reality that the possibility of
concerted action is foreclosed on by the rather surprising political
identification with and ultimately support for the surveillance
apparatus by the centre-left and right-both evidently gaining too many
benefits from the status quo to even contemplate rocking the boat even
in the service of the democracy to which they so loudly and regularly
pledge allegiance.

It appears that it is only at the fringes on the right and on the left
(and of course, among those who have an inkling of the reality and
significance of what is going on-most notably the technical community)
that there is any real alarm and desire to do something . anything
that might work. But even here, the right is too deeply enthralled
by the logic of their position to even contemplate alternatives
(governmental based) that might work. And the left is too weakened
after vicious assaults over the last decade to launch any worthwhile

So what are we to do.

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