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Apr 17 2012

Technology for Fun, Profit and Total Control

(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Orwell may appear prescient when he imagined his telescreen that the government used as a means of social and political control, given that we now have the government routinely using devices like the cell phones for tracking citizens and tapping into everyone’s electronic communications to “hunt for terrorists” among us.  Recently we learned that the Department of Homeland Security monitors and analyzes social media including for online comments that “reflect adversely” on the federal government.  It seems that the government is so ambitious about collecting and analyzing information about us that the NSA is building an almost inconceivably large facility to store and mine Americans private communications.

It seems that every time a new communications technology becomes available, the government finds a compelling reason and a secret rationale to exploit it to monitor Americans.

That is why this new technology, pioneered by Google should really make you wonder how it will be used:

See what I mean?

Now that they have commercially available teevees that watch you and now this Google device that could potentially watch you watch the world and monitor your every move, question and utterance, how far are we from a popular dystopian vision?

Orwell described the telescreen in “1984” this way:

Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

When Orwell wrote “1984” he didn’t imagine the sort of super-computing and processing and storage technology that we have available today.  While in Orwell’s vision there was some randomness to whether the government would be paying attention to a personal act of political heresy, the technology exists to multiply the government’s attention to detail beyond mere human capacity.  The sad thing is that in recent years the will to regulate government intrusion into citizen privacy has seemed to diminish as its ability to do so has been enhanced by leaps and bounds.

Of course, there’s no way to tell if the government is interested in this new Google technology.

Meet soon-to-be former DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Director and soon-to-be Google employee Dr. Regina Dugan.  While she was at DARPA she developed an interest in “better ways of handling the data that optical sensors produce, needed by the US military to properly exploit the advanced technologies being developed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) applications.” Dugan’s stated interests included, “the development of a smart network, analogous to the Internet … that would ultimately enable the ISR equivalent of social networking.”

Interesting. So, the former Director of DARPA and cofounder and current part owner of a company with defense contracts (RedX Defense – a bomb detection firm) is joining the, “don’t be evil” company.  You don’t suppose that Google might have been interested in her defense industry contacts, do you?

It’s not like private corporations assist the government in breaking down our privacy and have grown this capacity as a profit center.   Why shouldn’t Google get in on the fun, after all telephone companies are now making significant profits off of the growing government demand for services in surreptitiously monitoring citizens:

If Americans aren’t disturbed by phone carriers’ practices of handing over cell phone users’ personal data to law enforcement en masse-in many cases without a warrant-we might at least be interested to learn just how much that service is costing us in tax dollars: often hundreds or thousands per individual snooped.

Earlier this week the American Civil Liberties Union revealed a trove of documents it had obtained through Freedom of Information Requests to more than 200 police departments around the country. They show a pattern of police tracking cell phone locations and gathering other data like call logs without warrants, using devices that impersonate cell towers to intercept cellular signals, and encouraging officers to refrain from speaking about cell-tracking technology to the public, all detailed in a New York Times story.

But at least one document also details the day-to-day business of telecoms’ handing over of data to law enforcement, including a breakdown of every major carrier’s fees for every sort of data request from targeted wiretaps to so-called “tower dumps” that provide information on every user of certain cell tower.

It’s not just the Telco’s either.  As Dana Priest revealed  some time ago, there is a whole hidden world of government agencies and private sector companies growing like weeds.  According to Homeland Security’s own website DHS has an impact on 29 million private sector companies, universities, and not-for-profits institutions and is working on ways to “coordinate” with them in order to “enhance and align private sector engagement and information-sharing efforts across DHS.”

At this point we have a variety of 4th Amendment-endangering cybersecurity bills cirulating in the legislature including one by John McCain and supported by Republicans that would move responsibility for cybersecurity over to the non-transparent NSA, placing it under the military rather than the civilian DHS agency:

A cybersecurity bill introduced by Republican Senator John McCain could dramatically expand the domestic reach of U.S. intelligence agencies and potentially give them massive troves of emails, civil liberties advocates said. “This is a privacy nightmare that will eventually result in the military substantially monitoring the domestic, civilian Internet,” said Michelle Richardson of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Unlike the Democratic-led alternative supported by Majority Leader Harry Reid, the McCain bill stresses voluntary information sharing instead of regulation of critical industries by the Department of Homeland Security. …

The bill says private companies such as Internet service providers could send the defense agencies evidence such as “network activity or protocols known to be associated with a malicious cyber actor or that may signify malicious intent.” Neither “network activity” nor “malicious intent” are defined in the bill, and they could theoretically encompass ordinary emails containing legal protest speech, the ACLU’s Richardson said.

So welcome to the dystopian future.  Inventors create communications and computing technologies that help us work, create, relax and entertain ourselves and government is right there, demanding a back door into the devices so they can spy on us.  Corporate bean counters figure out how they can get us to pay them even more by charging the taxpayers for the government’s spying on them.

It’s a brave new world!

Speaking of which, consider this from Neil Postman:

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

“But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another — slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preocuppied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

It is sadly ironic that we pay dearly for the devices that the government uses to spy on us because we enjoy their convenience and entertainment value so much.  It may one day be the undoing of our civil liberties.

It is interesting to compare the thoughts of Postman above to the political theory developed by Sheldon Wolin about America becoming an “inverted totalitarian” state, which can be briefly described as a state where,”in inverted totalitarianism, corporations through political contributions and lobbying, dominate the Superpower, with the government acting as the servant of large corporations. This isn’t considered corruption, but “normal.”

Here are some snippets of a review of Wolin’s book, “Democracy Incorporated,” written by Chalmers Johnson:

The genius of our inverted totalitarian system “lies in wielding total power without appearing to, without establishing concentration camps, or enforcing ideological uniformity, or forcibly suppressing dissident elements so long as they remain ineffectual. A demotion in the status and stature of the ‘sovereign people’ to patient subjects is symptomatic of systemic change, from democracy as a method of ‘popularizing’ power to democracy as a brand name for a product marketable at home and marketable abroad. The new system, inverted totalitarianism, is one that professes the opposite of what, in fact, it is. The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed.”  

Among the factors that have promoted inverted totalitarianism are the practice and psychology of advertising and the rule of “market forces” in many other contexts than markets, continuous technological advances that encourage elaborate fantasies (computer games, virtual avatars, space travel), the penetration of mass media communication and propaganda into every household in the country, and the total co-optation of the universities. Among the commonplace fables of our society are hero worship and tales of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, action measured in nanoseconds, and a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility, whose adepts are prone to fantasies because the vast majority have imagination but little scientific knowledge.  …

Wolin argues, “The privatization of public services and functions manifests the steady evolution of corporate power into a political form, into an integral, even dominant partner with the state. It marks the transformation of American politics and its political culture from a system in which democratic practices and values were, if not defining, at least major contributing elements, to one where the remaining democratic elements of the state and its populist programs are being systematically dismantled.”

One other subordinate task of managed democracy is to keep the citizenry preoccupied with peripheral and/or private conditions of human life so that they fail to focus on the widespread corruption and betrayal of the public trust. In Wolin’s words, “The point about disputes on such topics as the value of sexual abstinence, the role of religious charities in state-funded activities, the question of gay marriage, and the like, is that they are not framed to be resolved. Their political function is to divide the citizenry while obscuring class differences and diverting the voters’ attention from the social and economic concerns of the general populace.”   …

Another elite tactic of managed democracy is to bore the electorate to such an extent that it gradually fails to pay any attention to politics. Wolin perceives, “One method of assuring control is to make electioneering continuous, year-round, saturated with party propaganda, punctuated with the wisdom of kept pundits, bringing a result boring rather than energizing, the kind of civic lassitude on which managed democracy thrives.”

As a final thought, here is a video clip that contains so much truth, it could only be handled through the satire of fake news:

5 comments

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  1. MarilynW

    I’m disturbed by phone data being handed over to police without a warrant. If a person is falsely arrested, framed or pulled in for legally protesting, their privacy is gone? Are we going to live in a world where we only trust person to person contact and even then our conversations could be overheard or spied on. Maybe we will have to put messages in newspapers and leave the newspaper on a bench for our friend to pick up.

  2. joe shikspack

    thanks for reading!

  3. joanneleon

    Thanks.

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