Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fed Up With Being Spied On

[Part of the series: 2013 = 1984?]

"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." (George Orwell, 1984 - p.2)

Edward J. Snowden has forced us to confront what we all knew already: our government is running wild and we can't get our privacy back, short of some kind of very extreme change.

For a long time, many of us have been shrugging off the probability that our Facebook posts and other social media were being seen by the government; we joked about hearing strange sounds on the phone lines and the possibility that our meeting rooms were bugged. We remarked over the ubiquitous cameras in Chicago and other cities. We had a vague sense that the government's computer and communications system power were far beyond anything we could really understand.

But Snowden has stuck it in our face, and now -- like Winston Smith in 1984 -- we're being challenged to confront it. Do we really want a world in which our own affairs are 100% transparent to the government? Can't we push back?

And that's just the half of it. My sister, Elaine Scarry, has written about how things have gotten turned on their head in Transparent Citizens, Invisible Government: "The Patriot Act inverts the constitutional requirement that people's lives be private and the work of government officials be public; it instead crafts a set of conditions in which our inner lives become transparent and the workings of the government become opaque. Either one of these outcomes would imperil democracy; together they not only injure the country but also cut off the avenues of repair."

The problem is not that we are living our lives in public. People are entitled to be "out" without fearing that the facts of their lives will be abused.

We have a problem with our government. It sees opportunities for power in every bit and byte of our personal data, and it's time to call it what it is: wrong.

We've been fortunate to have some modern-day Paul Reveres -- Bradley Manning and now Edward J. Snowden -- to raise the alarm. Now it's up to us to rise to the call.

For more on the surveillance state: Read 1984.

(1984 page references are to the 2009 Plume paperback edition.) 

Related posts

A large number of people are marked for exclusion and deprivation -- and worse -- because they have characteristics that are susceptible to the whole apparatus of power:  they are easily recognizable as  NOT "normal" or "right" or "acceptable" . . . under the gaze of surveillance this condition is recorded and propagated . . . for perpetual recording and processing within the data centers of power . . . accompanied by intermittent acts of physical and cultural injury -- random, senseless -- to reinforce their unshakeable status. 

(See Drone Gaze, Drone Injury: The War on Communities of Color)

One issue that has a key place in the midterm elections in 2014, I believe, is surveillance.  With each passing day, I am hearing more and more people say that the surveillance issue is something that a wide spectrum of people are deeply upset about. That includes people on the right as well as people on the left -- people who don't usually talk with each other, much less work together for positive change!

(See The Surveillance Issue: The Fulcrum of the 2014 Election?)

There has been a good sign in 2013, in that many people have become outraged about government surveillance. A recent Pew poll found that Americans are now more worried about civil liberties abuses than terrorism. I believe a big question in 2014 will be whether challengers successfully address the issue of NSA surveillance in their campaigns.

(See What Will Election 2014 Boil Down To? )