Yep – pretty depressing …

It’s almost a ‘media meme’ too – every day there’s one or two articles on the topic in my news feed. The topic of surveillance is becoming so pervasive and thus so is the practice. From the DWP to doorbell manufacturers some form of computational surveillance is built-in to every system.

Not sure if you’ve seen this article from 2014, so just in case: Some useful background there on the Snowden revelations and the idea that more and more data is what drives our surveillance state (it’s a dialectical anxiety) and the fallacy that more data leads to better truth … Also interesting details about the effects of surveillance on clothing fashion(!)

But of course, truth has nothing to do with it! It’s all about power and control over others.

How to re-balance control? Well, that really is the big question of the day!

Ironically, the Tories are supposed to be party of the ‘small-state’ but the idea of ‘the state’ they rely on is out of date – it is the ‘red-tape’ state, the bureaucratic state, piles of musty documents sitting on the desks of civil servants etc. A Dickensian state. (And I suspect other political parties are still on the same page.)

That image of the old-style bureaucratic has to be destroyed. The state is now ‘bigger’ and more controlling than ever it was but laws and political behaviours are still bound by 19thC models of suited and hatted gentlemen patriarchs. But today’s politicians are like mini-Zuckerbergs – immature and contemptuous (famous quote: “They just keep giving me private information about themselves … the dumbfucks”).

In so-called ‘neo-liberal’ states the distinction between civil government and private enterprise no longer exists; put another way, like the Chinese, we all live in state capitalist societies.

In practical terms, for example, the Extinction Rebellion movement (which also has a long history of course) does not go far enough – it has to include the way that a society makes use of data and data processing tools …

Maybe it’s not really a solution to say we need new regulation and new laws … but we do … because, like Pandora’s box, these magical tools (up to an including MITs latest project that can construct an image from the shadows cast on the wall of a room!) cannot be put back once they are let loose in the wild. But regulation can’t keep up …

Perhaps regulations like GDPR, held up by many as an example of good practice, are simply not up to the job. Something more radical is needed – perhaps that personal data is *a priori* owned by the individual it represents. Somehow we need new laws – copyright laws; IP laws? – that require *all* users of data (e.g. an image of my face; a recording of my voice) to seek permission before use and to pay for the privilege. Goodness knows, an infrastructure to make that happen must be possible (e.g. Berners-Lee is working on something like that I think).

Or, somehow we have to find a way to disconnect the use of data from the exercise of power and control – no matter how trivial that power might at first glance seem to be (e.g. Domino’s pizza tracking surveillance!) But it’s complicated …

As you say, troubling times. :~{

Two mildly interesting asides:

(i) We seem to be moving in a similar direction as China’s surveillance state built on its Social Credit infrastructure, which I am sure you will know about. The other week I picked up an interesting detail that the Chinese word/ideogram for ‘credit’ is also readily translated as ‘trust’ (there is a semantic link there). So really, in the eyes of the Chinese state, it is intended as a Social Trust system (!) … I wonder how long before we start hearing something similar here (if not already).

(ii) a while back I read an interesting chapter about the impact of late 19thC technologies, new at the time, on art and philosophy. Of particular interest, the discovery of X-rays had quite an impact on for it was viewed “… as a machine that could render transparent … the mind …” . The writer quotes an interesting passage from Maxim Gorky:

“Imagine that someone wants to know you better. He takes a picture of your skull, and if this skull contained some thoughts, the negative will reveal them as black blots, or snakelike spirals, or some other unattractive form. If he wishes, he can try to photograph your conscience, and the negative will also show all the excrescences and blots. In a word, every person will be seen through now, and however thick and impenetrable your skin might be, the new light makes it transparent like glass.”

(Glass became something of a literary metaphor and an architectural trope in the first decades of the 20C)

Final note: Bogost uses the word ‘munged’. Never heard that before!

Perhaps there’s another detail here for regulation? No Munging!