If you haven’t seen the Snowden interview yet, it’s worth watching in its entirety. Or as much as you can find on the it00bz. But this post isn’t about whether Snowden is a hero or a dick. I have no idea, there are signs of both What’s interesting to a lot of us is what he has to say about the digital-network national security apparatus that has come of age in the last decade and now invades almost every aspect of our private and professional lives. The former security industry analyst’s insights are fascinating, he speaks about the nature of state security technology and speculates on how it may be in the early stages of taking a dark turn. His comments in that regard come off, at least to me, as earnest in intent and plausible in execution; history will be the judge, we may have to wait many years for that verdict to be read.
One of the things he could do better next time, if there is a next time, is talk a little bit more about the databases. From what Snowden said and the reporting done on his behalf, it sounds like it’s not just that you’re being recorded whenever you go online by land or by air, it’s that the data is being put into highly searchable databases in real time. Meaning anything you do, even creating a draft in your email folder, is not just observable, every draft being written while hooked up to a network in the background can be found by using keywords. Search programs, correlations, keyword combo generators, match-ups with prior correspondence or voice data, have been created and greatly refined that make this an alarmingly effective tool. A tool that pries open the very corners of your innermost thoughts. That is a dangerous technology for any nutjob government to have at their disposal.
But what struck me wasn’t just the government angle, as creepy as a highly surveyed Handmaiden’s-Tale type society might be. It was the potential applications to the private sector combined with a new, unregulated info-industry. Whenever this topic come sup among friends, some are quick to plead ‘no one cares about lil ole me.’
There are probably people who do care about lil ole you. About every facet of your lil ole boring life. Search engines and super engines filter it all, dice it and slice it, and offer it up everyway and anyway it’s wanted. In fact a big problem for folks in these security industry commercial spin-offs, going under various names like business-intel or web-market analyst or other innocent sounding terms, isn’t if the details of your life are available, they are, it’s that so much data is available that the big challenge has and remains getting that data selected and displayed in the way a corporate snoop wants to see it.
And they’ve gotten really, really good at selecting and displaying that stuff over the last decade. So good that giant relational databases collected by networks, enriched by algos that run bare foot through them, have become a huge resource and are beginning to become a new industry in themselves. A new product — your data. So forget the lil ole me refrain … Like any big product, the people involved in producing it do indeed care about every scrap of your data and, since technically it is their network, or a network they have leased to someone else for some intrusive commercial mining op, they are not encumbered by the Bill of Rights whatsoever. Unless you own your own network, from pole to pole, you’re on their network, you signed a Terms of Service or Use or something. It’s technically their data.
Add in a growing, openly corrupt political process wherein all manner of obscure but invasive legislation can be cranked out of a think-tank factory floor and put into effect, for a price only the wealthy need concern themselves with, and I actually have to wonder: would it be better if everything was public? Would a system where everyone has equal access to both your most embarrassing, personal details and your most mundane, daily actions be better than one where only a dialed in, few corporate elite stand to benefit obscenely, in every way measurable, from that data?
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s bigger than pure evil or pure good. Like speech, that made us all liars, writing which turned me partisan, or religion that manufactures hypocrites by the super-gross, this about a tighter community. But it’s nothing really new, we’ve been going down this road since the first coherent sentences were uttered by our distant ancestors. A tighter, larger, less physically violent community or comm, composed of specialized sub-comms, will do amazing things, squeezing the most out of technology that already exists and finding the always waiting hidden twists and turns that lead to — sorry to use an over hyped term but it actually fits here — revolutionary paradigm shifts.
Some people reading this found the page from a link I posted this morning on Daily Kos featuring a new space capsule developed by SpaceX. It’s a 21st century edition, as far advanced in design and capability, as ahead of the old Apollo or Soyuz spacecraft, as a modern Raptor is over the F-86 Sabre. That was made possible, in part, by collaboration across regions and time zones enabled by digital networks. It’s just an example, similar revolutions may be waiting in the wings in every field, regenerative medicine, materials, smart everything, from toasters to cars. A tighter, more connected community is not necessarily bad.
But it could be. And that’s part of what I see motivating Snowden.
Not to make anyone paranoid, but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean no one is watching you. It’s not just that everything you do is being recorded. It’s that everything you do is being recorded and watched in real time by smarter and smarter programs slaved to actual human beings, thousands and thousands of human beings, paid to watch and analyze your every move.