It’s not just that everything you do is being recorded …


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.










  1. Endorkened says

    You hit the nail right on the head–the problem isn’t a lack of privacy. That’s a good thing. The problem is that the higher castes aren’t subject to the same scrutiny. In my perfect world, wouldn’t just have cameras on every room in every building–we’d have publicly accessible webcams.

  2. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Thought provoking article here and interview – cheers “DarkSyde”.

    That SpaceX capsule is flippin’ awesome too – can’t wait to see it fly.

  3. lanir says

    I don’t really think that a complete lack of privacy would be fair. You can give the same data sets to different people and they’ll be capable of doing different things with it. What you would see in a world where the data isn’t private is rich people would be capable of sorting and correlating it much better. And they would still be in a much better position to expose bad practices. Having everyone’s avaialble might mitigate the impact but having your private issues aired in public by someone who can afford to make sure they go far and wide… I think that might still mean something.

    I don’t think this brand of equality would be very equal.

  4. says

    Fair point, Lanir. It is a landscape of decidedly non-ideal option. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I just wonder if we might reach a point where super searches/filters become cheap enough and good enough that even some of us plebes have comparable info sorting resources, if we want them and use them? Not in a headline story way, just in the general analysis way. Most people really won’t care much about lil ole me. Most people don’t care what Intel common stock did Friday, either. But over 40 million shares changed hands, so at least several thousand people cared plenty.

  5. comfychair says

    Anyone who says ‘if you aren’t doing anything wrong you have nothing to hide’ is someone who has never been accused of a crime they didn’t commit. Once you see the justice system from the point of view of an innocent defendant, you’ll change that tune right quick. The things the authorities can dream up based on nothing is truly remarkable.

  6. catlover says

    I cannot at all understand why anyone would like to live in a world where no one has any privacy — except the very wealthy, who would certainly have the power to keep their private lives private. We each need and deserve the privacy to live our own lives, without being in constant fear of what a bunch of uncaring strangers will think of each action we take. No one we do not freely consent to live with is mature or wise enough to be trusted with all the intimate details of our daily lives — especially our mistakes, and even those we freely choose to live with can, at times, misuse what they learn of us in private.

    The key is: Do we get to freely choose who we share our intimate thoughts and our daily lives with — warts and all?

    I am completely disgusted with this new world. I want and need and deserve privacy — and I very much want everyone to have privacy, too! The NSA — and all other agencies and companies who spy on all of us — should stop every bit of their police-state spying on all of us — ASAP, under penalty of being thrown into federal prison for a long, long time

  7. lanir says

    Couldn’t watch the interview video at first. After just watching it… An analogy that kept popping into my head for what the government is doing and why it’s so utterly and fantastically ridiculous for anyone to believe their rash of excuses and counterattacks is it’s an awful lot like a mafia protection racket.

    The public is paying for the “insurance” whether they want it or not.
    Much like Fight Club, insiders are not supposed to talk about it.
    If you let the truth about the protection racket get out, the same people who have benefited the most from it will lecture you about how wrong you were to let it get out to distract from the fact that they have performed illegal acts.
    Taking any sort of stand against the protection racket causes extreme reactions designed to shut you up and penalize you for bringing it up in the first place rather than address any potential problems with the practice.
    Continuing the practice will tend to result in an evolution of penalties and stronger practices such that what was out of bounds in the beginning may not remain so.

    @Stephen: Sounds like you’re thinking script-kiddies sort of. It’s true that knowledge gets out and even automated programs that allow anyone to perform an exploit. It’s true some degree of that would happen. I still think the results would vary because even once you have access to a system not everyone knows what to do with it. And to be honest I hadn’t even considered catlover’s point about rich people throwing money around to veil their true actions. If we end up in that world without privacy, I trust you won’t mind if I hope your vision of it is far more accurate than mine! :)

  8. says

    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.

    Sorry, but I don’t buy this. Yes, there are serious concerns that need to be addressed about the NSA’s activities, and the government handling of private data in general, but dark warnings about a surveillance state about to run rampant over American liberty are just paranoid nonsense.

    It’s easy to name the poster children of surveillance states over the last century — East Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and North Korea. And what did these three surveillance states have in common? They were all low-tech regimes, with barely a computer to share between them. They all relied heavily on word-of-mouth informants, and could only function because, for whatever the reason, a sizable minority of the population (as much as 25%) bought into the regime’s need to monitor and control.

    Of course, the high tech tools of today can do a lot of the work those informants used to do, but it remains true that without the buy-in of a sizable portion of the population, then you’re not going to get the same type of regime happening here in America. It’s one thing to listen in, it’s entirely another when you try to act on the information you’ve gathered.

    Don’t forget, the Information Superhighway is a two-way street, and for all the increase in traffic that heading into the databases of the NSA and corporate America, it’s the vast increase in the traffic flowing in the other direction that has been and will be the best safeguard against the loss of freedom. We are in a much better position to defend against tyranny today than we were 40 years ago, no matter what the fringe nutjobs like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck might be saying.

    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?

    Terrible idea. If anything, the “elite” (I’m really becoming to hate that term) would probably love that idea, given that the ensuing flood of information would make it a lot easier for them to hide theirs as people turn each other. Again, the increased flow of information enabled by the Internet has actually helped shine a spotlight on the past and present misdeeds of those whose wealth and influence have brought them closer to the centers of power. It would be silly to throw away that advantage.

    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.

    Totally wrong. There are no people paid to “watch and analyze your every move” — that’s just ridiculous. Those people are paid to study patterns and trends in the data they collect from you and millions of others so that they can tailor their software to deliver services and advertising that you are more likely to want and respond to. Nobody is “watching your every move” — that’s just paranoid bullshit that belongs on a site like Infowars, not here.

  9. Trebuchet says

    A little late to the party but if anyone’s still reading:
    The founder of SpaceX is Elon Musk, also founder of the Tesla car company. Very cool (and very expensive) electric cars. Which, as I understand it, keep track of everywhere you go, every time you recharge, how fast you are going, etc.; and transmit it all back to the company. At least if you’re a journalist testing the car, but probably for everyone else as well.

    Privacy is dead.

  10. says

    Tacitus — Thanks for the excellent, well thought out and well written comment. It’s a fair point that “watching your every move” sounds a bit nefarious, and I don’t mean it in that way necessarily. But imo, “they” are doing more than watching for general trends in we the herd. I feel it’s fair to suggest “they” really are sometimes examining our habits individually; for relatively innocent reasons for the most part, things like marketing to be sure.

    But consider: if someone signs into their phone network by real name and looks at a site or product, and then they sign into a personal email account, “SexyPappa75” let’s say, or this site under a pseudonym, on a different device entirely, and discover spam or ads in the margins that look an awful like the same stuff they happened to look at on the phone earlier, it may not be a coincidence. “They” might have figured out we/you are probably the same person. That’s one example of what I meant by ‘our every move’.

    But again, fair point, sorry if that sounds a bit over the top, it probably is a little bit over the top and I should have phrased it in a less threatening, more accurate way.

    Catlover — I don’t know of anyone who wants less privacy, so I think you’re dead right there. Of course everything has plusses and minuses. One downside of communication, the better it gets the less privacy there may be. If gamma male chimp manages to sneak off with a female for some unauthorized fun, unless they’re busted in the act, they can get away with it. But early stone age hominid? Once the clan has a rudimentary language, they can get narced out well after the act. Throw in writing and now any act can potentially become immortal. And if we extrapolate that trend forward, greater and greater real time communication, it seems like privacy would have to be at greater and greater risk.

    I wonder if there comes a point where it’s just gone. Where at some point — G-glasses or artificial eyes or brain implants or living in a full blown virtual world 24/7 — make privacy, perhaps even private thoughts, impossible to have. It seems scary to me, but maybe it would become more and more accepted if people grew up in that kind of environment from day one?

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