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Thursday, 19 December 2013

"A Society Under Surveillance Is No Longer a Democracy"

astasiHow Ironic That The STASI (Emblem Above) Set the Standard for Surveillance. It Could Happen Here.Last week, the Guardian UK reported that 500 authors, including five Noble Prize winners, signed a manifesto calling for a curtailing of the emergence of surveillance states, led by the US:
A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space.
What could be a more fundamental right than the ability to think and express oneself freely, without the state gathering a digital mountain of our private lives?
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It's no coincidence that the Guardian UK broke the Edward Snowden revelations about he NSA, which confirmed the worst fears about the extent to which the US government has been spying without any significant restrictions -- and casting an extremely wide net that went way beyond what might be needed for national security interests.
A British author, Jeanette Winterson, signed the author's declaration, stating:
We have had no debate, no vote, no say, hardly any information about how our data is used and for what purpose. Our mobile phones have become tracking devices. Social networking is data profiling. We can't shop, spend, browse, email, without being monitored. We might as well be tagged prisoners. Privacy is an illusion. Do you mind about that? I do.
In fact, the UK has a special role to play in the US surveillance state, due to its longterm cooperation with America in electronic communication and data program extending back to the Cold War ECHELON project (which still exists in an expanded role).   The touting of ECHELON as a national security necessity was severely tarnished when it was revealed that it was often used for high-level industrial espionage that would favor US companies.
Having just returned from Berlin and visited a rather revealing STASI museum in a far corner of what was once East Berlin, it is clear to me that while the US has in no way become an infested society of informers, it has developed the capabilities to control its population through using purloined information and intercepted communications.  This was a favored STASI practice to demoralize East Germans and turn them into informers through blackmail.  They had a system of nearly 100,000 agents and staff -- and more that 150,000 informers in East Germany.  The STASI "campus" was vaste, perhaps one square mile of buildings, not to mention a system of political prisions throughout the former Soviet block nation.
Although their functions are, it appears, thus far limited to collecting data, the US has an estimated million government employees and consultants working on "classified data" (remember Snowden was a consulant for Booz Allen).  Some of them are active intelligence agents abroad and some of them use information for creating domestic infiltration of protest groups, but we are far from being a STASI-like society -- yet we have gone a long way toward making such a horrifiyingly controlled political system possible.
A singular problem with the NSA's broad swathe of surveillance is that if someone comes into power who wishes to control the population through intimidation (and J. Edgat Hoover did this to high-level figures) and threats of prosecution, the information has been assembled to get the job done.  That could be just one 9/11 away from actually happening.
Call it a conspiratorial outlook, but re-read the words of the writers who decry the growth of the surveillance state:
A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space.
Those who find comfort that we are far from a STASI state at this time may not realize how far the infrastructure for such a possiblity has advanced.


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