The Age of Mass Surveillance Will Not Last Forever
Last week, we featured a piece on the geo-political implications of the business of the internet and how data is at the centre of Cold War 2.0. This piece by none other than Edward Snowden, the CIA analyst who blew the whistle on how the state was using the internet to spy on its own citizens. Snowden comes at it more from the perspective of human rights – how the internet meant to bring in liberation has also brought along oppression and how he hasn’t given hope that thanks to technology in itself, the age of mass surveillance will not last forever. This essay is an introduction to the new editions of the twin books by Cory Doctorow – Little Brother and Homeland. Snowden is believed to have taken a copy of the book Homeland when he left his hotel room in Hong Kong, from where he blew the whistle on the CIA and headed for exile. The WIRED article ends with a short essay from Doctorow himself:
“I wrote Little Brother, my 2008 novel of surveillance and resistance, two years after the AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein walked into the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s San Francisco offices to reveal that he’d been ordered to build a secret room so that the NSA could illegally spy on the whole internet. In the years since, surveillance and counter-surveillance have risen steadily—motivating new whistleblowers with fresh revelations about the use of networked computers to assert their power.
Ten years ago this month, Finland declared internet access a human right and people laughed and pointed. A decade later we’ve transitioned from arguing about whether everything we do necessarily involves the internet to the obvious fact that everything we do requires it.
Ed Snowden took a copy of Homeland—the sequel to Little Brother—with him when he left his Hong Kong hotel room and headed for exile. In the introduction to a new edition of both books, reprinted above, Snowden discussed the once-hopeful signs of a Hong Kong uprising, driven by networks and abetted by a global online solidarity movement.
Today, the Hong Kong uprising is in ashes and the mass arrests have begun. If you ever needed proof that networks are balanced on the knife-edge of liberation and oppression, here it is.
There’s a story that the digital rights movement started because techno-triumphalists were sure that the internet would make us all free; but if you have that certainty, why bother starting a movement? No, the movement owes its existence to the fact that anyone who understands technology well enough to appreciate its liberatory potential is necessarily terrified by its potential to oppress.”