7 April 2016
One of the rare joys of being a live author, is the ability to interpret your own works, as well as to help others when they try to do so. In that context it was, as ever, a pleasure to read Gürses et al. recent article on “Crypto and empire: the contradictions of counter-surveillance advocacy” and reflect on the insights it provides. It is also nice to be in a position to highlight that a number of thesis it puts forward are in fact artefacts of preconceptions and selective reading of events. While this is useful to abstract and present a clear argument, it is unhelpful when it results in misleading conclusions and interpretations.
Broadly speaking the article argues that the distinction between mass surveillance and targeted surveillance, sweeps under the carpet questions of political legitimacy of current forms of targeted surveillance. It also ignores the fact that mass electronic surveillance, as revealed by Edward Snowden, was in fact targeted towards select populations, for specific political reasons.
I think this is insightful — although I like this straight forward formulation better than the one from the original article, which makes broad assertions linked with a specific, US centric view of identity politics. Are the mass surveillance programs selecting on a “racial, gendered, classed, and colonial” basis per se? Or simply on the basis of the national and economic interests of the nations that implemented them, current geopolitical priorities, and the needs of political elites that commissioned them? I find the latter explanation simpler. Although, I have written in some length about how control of technology among certain nations could lead to a new form of cyber-colonialism. So I may be partly to blame for inspiring this — to which I will return.