"The Logic of Surveillance"

Interesting essay:

Surveillance is part of the system of control. “The more surveillance, the more control” is the majority belief amongst the ruling elites. Automated surveillance requires fewer “watchers”, and since the watchers cannot watch all the surveillance, long term storage increases the ability to find some “crime” anyone is guilty of.


This is one of the biggest problems the current elites face: they want the smallest enforcer class possible, so as to spend surplus on other things. The enforcer class is also insular, primarily concerned with itself (see Dorner) and is paid in large part by practical immunity to many laws and a license to abuse ordinary people. Not being driven primarily by justice or a desire to serve the public and with a code of honor which appears to largely center around self-protection and fraternity within the enforcer class, the enforcers’ reliability is in question: they are blunt tools and their fear for themselves makes them remarkably inefficient.

Surveillance expands the reach of the enforcer class and thus of the elites. Every camera, drone and so on reduces the number of eyes needed on the ground. The Stasi had millions of informers; surveillance reduces that requirement and the cost of the enforcer class.

Posted on March 12, 2013 at 6:45 AM37 Comments


atk March 12, 2013 7:10 AM

@Tim: What, exactly, do you find nonsensical about the idea that a tool makes an individual more efficient? Or the idea that those in power often desire to retain power, and use the tools available? Or the idea that the government insulates its executive branch from repercussions in the form of legal proceedings (it’s very hard to successfully sue a cop, an NSA, or an FBI agent) or physical (you get charged with assault)?

Yeah, there’s a particular bent to original article, but remove that and exactly what is nonsense?

Kronos March 12, 2013 7:38 AM

The same technology we see being misused by government security forces also allows ordinary citizens and business owners to keep themselves safe from miscreants. A friend suffered a break in and was getting pictures of the crooks on his iphone before the cops arrived. Within days the crooks were apprehended and most of his stuff was returned.

Nick March 12, 2013 7:55 AM

Consider the reverse. Ubiquitous recording. Here its the citizen recording.

  1. Get assualted. The police won’t look at the video. True in the UK, its happened to me recently
  2. Dangerous driving. For the met in London.

1100 complaints over 6 months. Lots with video. End result? 1 case referred to the CPS. The rest ignored. It’s being treated as a way of allowing the victims to let off steam.

  1. Filming of the police doing wrong. The one case that will be investigate. However, we’ve had cops racially abusing people on tape. No conviction.

With all these the issue is that its a drip drip drip with the police losing moral authority because of a lack of action over wrong doing.

  1. Divorce. Major area for all recording.

A good example, is Vicky Pryce trying to entrap Chris Huhne to reveal their criminal actions.

  1. The state. Ring up the tax man. Can I claim for X? Yes. Post it on the web. Now you have 50,000 other people claiming. Tax man doesn’t like it. Now say 2,000 appeal with evidence they can’t deny. Difficult.
  2. Corporate.

Sign up for this deal and we will save you money on you gas bill Great, where do I sign? My bill’s 600 quid.

Bill arrives for 800 quid, you send back a cheque for 599.99 with a note. Thanks for the saving, a penny’s a penny.

It would be laughed out of court with the video/recording.

I think the state has more to fear from US turning the camera to point the other way.

Hesweeney March 12, 2013 8:01 AM

Surveillance under what is considered a “totalitarian” state, nazi Germany, was done by the public, ordinary citizens.
The gestapo at its height was only 32,000 strong w/ 13,500 working as clerks not field officers.
The German population spied on each other for the state, as w/ the stasi later.
No drone or camera system will ever be as all encompassing.
Read your Orwell!

anon March 12, 2013 8:15 AM

Surveillance is part of the system of control

Can it be argued that: resilience is part of the system of trust?

Autolykos March 12, 2013 9:28 AM

I think he’s onto something with long term storage, but still slightly missing the point.
If they don’t have the manpower to watch all the camera feeds now (even with filters), they won’t have the manpower to watch the recordings later.
But what it does allow them is focusing on a specific individual they want to silence or blackmail – then the task becomes much more manageable. In that sense, many laws are not made to be respected but to be broken. Dr. Ferris makes that point quite well in Atlas Shrugged:
“There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kinds of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of lawbreakers – and then you cash in on guilt.”

Laird Wilcox March 12, 2013 10:52 AM

I suspect you’re going to see more prosecutions based on wiretapping and email evidence because what was said or typed simply appears to suggest intent. People like to think they understand much more than they actually do and infering a state of mind is a very risky proposition.

Ask yourself how many times in any given day someone may say of a given politician “somebody ought to shoot that SOB” without ever actually meaning it and certainly not intending to do it. In the past this passed unrecorded but no more. The tendency is to try to fill in ambiguous meaning with something more concrete, and therein lies all kinds of misunderstanding.

Clive Robinson March 12, 2013 12:01 PM

@ Autolykos,

“…. But just pass the kinds of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced no objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of lawbreakers – and then you cash in on guilt.”

It’s already been done, just change the words “on guilt” for “with fines”.

Back in the time of the previous Government in the UK under Tony Blair, they spent every penny they earned from direct taxation on bribing voters. Likewise with various stealth taxes etc untill there was nowhere left to squease dry with taxes direct or indirect.

But what of these voter bribes what were they?

For instance Tony Blair promissed they would spend 4billion on the NHS well they did but… It was not on Drs, Nurses or capital equipment oh no. Instead they frittered it away on clip board carrying consultants and project managers and Quangos etc.

Still not enough bribe factor so what did they do next they used an idea put forward to Maggie Thatcher which she had sensibly decided was a stupid idea. It was known as PFI or PPI basically it was a way of spending money and at the same time keep it of the Government account books. In essence by using dodgy deals to get private money at usury interest rates (25% was not unknown) over thirty to fourty years and at the end handing over these enormasly expensive “assets” back to the private companies so they could start charging again…

And then the sun stopped shining the sky became dark and rainy days were here as the economic down turn started to bite there were no reserves or nest eggs they’d blown the lot on voter bribes.

So how did they plan to raise more money for bribing the voter?

Simple, they planed to stop handing out money to local government. The way to do this was first to give local Government powers to raise revenue by civil fines and lots of new offences and by altering such things as planning legislation (you want to put an electrical socket in your kitchen, you need planning consent, it has to be done by a registered contractor, so a job that should have been less than 100GBP suddenly costs 350GBP with your local Gov getting half that in fees… Oh and then the increased VAT kickback to central Gov).

Now finding offences and collecting fines used to be labour intensive so it was not done very often. But with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) making covert surveillance easy and making the “enforcers” minimum wage with bonus, where the bonus could easily exceed double the minimum wage. The game changed…

In London (UK) a few years ago it was claimed that the average Londoner was viewed by over 300 cameras each day. Well it’s got a lot worse since especialy in civic areas. Many of those CCTV systems became unmaned untill some people realised they could be used for catching and fining. We have had reported cases of mothers who having given a toddler a crisp or sweet or other food item the toddler drops a small piece of it and suddelny an enforcment officer turrns up and issues an 80GBP spot fine with the usual threats about legal fees and a criminal record if it’s either not payed or contested. They’ve even tried to fine trades people for smoking in their vans and a whole variety of other “revenue raising tactics”.

Mean while it’s too dificalt to catch kidds robbing and mugging people infront of the same CCTV systems because they wore hoods or some other excuse…

vasiliy pupkin March 12, 2013 12:20 PM

“Surveillance under what is considered a “totalitarian” state, nazi Germany, was done by the public, ordinary citizens”.
That is snooping, ratting out, etc. – not
surveillance because human component involved and as result that is very selective on motives.
Same was in Russia under Stalin’s NKVD. The motive was to snitch on somebody to put person in jail/killed, then take his wife, apartment, other possesions, position of employment (get promotion on vacant now place) regardless of actual crime commited or intention to commit a crime.
That is why I’ll prefer surveillance versus snooping. At list camera has a part called objective which recorded everything and undecover LEO collecting information as part of his job versus confidential informant betraying trust of person being snitch upon.
I absolutely agree with Claire Wolfe that when you know that somebody in planning violent crime against innocent people (kids in particular) it is NOT snitching, but duty of any normal person to report that to authorities ASAP.

Jason March 12, 2013 2:55 PM


I worry about the ‘intent’ stuff myself. I’m pretty good at improvisation. As a job skill I can recommend it highly.

As a social skill it can be downright dangerous. On quite a number occasions I have woven an intricate scenario out of thin air, for the amusement of my companions. Most times I get a laugh, or a good conversation. But on a couple of occasions I’ve gotten a pregnant silence, followed by a, “Wow, you’ve really given that a lot of thought.”

No, I really haven’t.

Anon March 12, 2013 3:09 PM

I disagree that the automation of surveillance reduces the need for labor. In essence more data is generated and more people are needed to analyze it. AI is not mature and may never be. More labor is needed to develop, build, fly, etc. The essay reads as paranoia. If you aren’t doing anything wrong what is the real risk of lack of privacy? The “surveillance” is used on the watchers, even to a greater degree. Just look at the news. Would the public read a story about Joe Bob driving drunk or NSA watcher driving drunk? What would happen to the watcher as opposed to Joe Bob? Is Joe Bob subject to periodic lifestyle polys and background investigations?

Autolykos March 12, 2013 3:22 PM

@Michael Brady: Wow, that is seriously creepy. Haven’t seen those in Europe yet (and, at least under German law, it might even be illegal use them for recording without explicit consent). If I was some kind of Evil Overlord going for world domination, I’d start just like Google. All those Bond villains are amateurs compared to them.
Up until now, computer vision is not good enough to make a search for specific people in these masses of data even remotely feasible (at least with the stuff I’ve seen, and I work in this field). But that will change some day, and putting data on the Internet is like pissing in a pool: Once it’s there, you can’t unpiss it.

Jeff M March 12, 2013 4:04 PM

Regarding the “enforcer class” who are rewarded with power: In today’s Wall Street Journal (page A15): Stephens: To China’s Censors, With Love – WSJ.com

Bret Stephes writes: What goes on in [in the censor’s] mind when she decides what’s fit and unfit for her fellow Chinese citizens to read? And what was [the Chinese hacker] thinking (before he was shut out of our servers) as he followed the back-and-forth of editors rewriting copy or settling on the next day’s lineup of articles? In George Orwell’s “1984,” Winston Smith toiled away at the Ministry of Truth to make sure the narrative of the past always corresponded with the needs of the present. [The Chinese sensors and hackers] are in a similar position: low-level functionaries who know the truth. They know about the ill-gotten personal wealth of China’s leaders. They know about the rate at which China’s wealthy are withdrawing their money from the country. They know about the veracity of China’s official claim that it doesn’t hack into the servers of foreign corporations or steal proprietary data.

(Might be a pay wall)


Gorgeous Georgia March 12, 2013 4:50 PM

A person under surveillance is not just a passive victim. There is a very wide variety of ways you can use surveillance against the observer. I think that is very important to understand.

One thing not to do is to, for instance, on suspecting the police are reading your mail, to go and start saying you have a bomb just to toy with them. (People have been killed for that. Bolivia, turn of the last century, but still.)

The entire British XX program worked this way, and there are many other now open tales of this in the various annals of spy stories gone public.

The tactics and strategies one comes up with are mostly dynamic and require careful consideration, but with the mindset of one being under surveillance it soon becomes second nature.

Some hard and fast rules (not that anyone is asking, but for amusement purposes):

  1. Never let them know you know you are being surveilled.
  2. If there is any possible suspicion whatsoever do and say that which no one would ever do or say under X surveillance in order to establish, regain, and deepen cover.

There are an enormous number of things people say and do in private which they would never do in front of a camera in their right mind, so this is relatively easy.

  1. You must entice and keep them enthralled with real and true data they are looking for. 99.999% useful information.

You have them on the hook, so you have all the power. It is not the other way around.

They want information from you and the one in that situation is always the one in power. Information is meaningless otherwise.

It is shocking how far people will go for just words. And how badly people depend on it.

Jon March 12, 2013 8:48 PM

Poison the well.

I’m working on a gadget to make it trivial for a large circle of acquaintances to establish a record of exchanging totally meaningless data.

Well-encrypted data being indistinguishable from random data, this brings both plausible deniability of having a decryption key or there even being one to start with.

I could use some help with it – Perhaps I need a kickstarter…


Gorgeous Georgia March 12, 2013 9:46 PM

Either totally random or totally encrypted. Nice. Sounds like the majority of my online exchanges.

That is the product of a true anti-surveillance sadist.

(And at work. And at home. This is getting depressing…)

Autolykos March 13, 2013 6:44 AM

@Jon: Been there, done that. Once they passed that law to record Internet traffic in Germany, I wrote a small script to create 100-200kb files of (pseudo-)random data called [8-digit-number].tc and attached those to pretty much any E-Mail I sent. The law was taken back, but the script might still be around…
Attaching some meaningless .jpg image might work just as well (or even better), with the current state of the art in steganography. Provides more deniability if you can be arrested for not turning over decryption keys for stuff that looks like it’s encrypted (like in the UK).

Clive Robinson March 13, 2013 7:57 AM

@ Autolykos,

I, wrote a small script to create 100-200kb files of(pseudo-)random data called [8-digit-number].tc and attached those to pretty much any E-Mail sent.

Whilst I can guess what .tc means 😉 there is a small problem with your scheme.

Depending on the quality of your “pseudo-random” generator you might either not achive what you want or worse not be able to prove that the data is “total cr4p”.

Thus I would sugest a scheme that involves a high quality but fast cipher system and embedding the key in the file it’s self. Thus if challenged in front of a judge you would be able to recover the key and show the file to be harmless.

Lets assume for arguments sake you are using AES in CTR mode as your generator. You need to have two numbers the counter start position and the AES key. And to keep the authorities busy some non obvious way to obsficate them in the file and/or file name.

One way would be to use “Russian Coupling”.

Put simply you start your file with the two numbers and then fill out the file to the desired size with the generator output. You then use some simple obsfication process on the numbers and generate a random number that is smaller than the file size. You then split the file at that offset and put the last part first and the first part last ( ie A….aB….b becomes B….bA….a). You then add this random number at some known location in the file.

As you have the addition of a file name you can use this as a pointer to the random number in the file so it does not have to be in a fixed place. Obviously you obsficate it in some simplish manner.

Why do I say “simplish” when talking about the obsfication. Well if you have to show it to a judge you need to remember they are biased in favour of simple. Thus if you do a lot of complex arm waving obsfiication the Judge is likely to think you are being evasive etc and not give you any kind of benifit of the doubt when the prosecution gives some apparently (to the judges ears) reason that infact it’s an oh so secret messsage that they cannot tell the judge becausee it will effect an ongoing investigation into terrorism/other of the four horsmen.

phred14 March 13, 2013 8:30 AM

re: appending random garbage

Makes me think that it’s time for the “travesty generator” to make a comeback. FYI, travesty generators use a random-number generator to spew characters, then use an Nth-order filter to give those characters a “style”. So a “third-order Shakespeare” generator would spit out random text, where every group of 3 characters would have a probability matching that of 3-character groups from Shakespeare’s writings. Some of these “travesties” can even approach being readable, for N around 5 or 6.

So instead of randome AES/CTR data, just use a 6th order travesty generator for Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, etc.

John Campbell March 13, 2013 8:40 AM

Surveillance only provides control when the threat of exposing someone’s peccadillos will apply enough pressure to the victim.

Surveillance provides BLACKMAIL material, whether it can lead to criminal or civil charges.

Sadly, those who would embrace the idea of pervasive surveillance are usually those who would find some means to be exempt. (Kind of how Legislative Branch salaries, for instance, are exempt from sequestration… which is a joke, any way.)

joequant March 13, 2013 10:41 PM

First of all the article misses the tiny point that Stasi didn’t help the East Germany government survive. The problem with massive surveillance is that you end up totally overloaded with information, most of which turns out to be useless.

Second, not all “elites” are the same. Complaining about the “elites” misses the point that there hasn’t been a society created without some sort of class structure, and your choice is between difference sets of “elites.”

Finally, this misses the point of Chinese censorship. The point of censorship is not to block information. It’s to block organization. It’s also to change behavior. Having a security camera in an obvious place changes behavior even if no one is watching. Similarly, the Chinese censors make it obvious that they are there since their point is to get people to moderate their own online behavior.

joequant March 13, 2013 10:52 PM

Jeff M: They know about the ill-gotten personal wealth of China’s leaders. They know about the rate at which China’s wealthy are withdrawing their money from the country. They know about the veracity of China’s official claim that it doesn’t hack into the servers of foreign corporations or steal proprietary data.

And so does every other person who lives in China. It turns out that knowing stuff is useless. The Chinese government really doesn’t care what people “know.” What worries them is that people will organize and do something about it (which is more or less what happened in Egypt). The focus of repression in China isn’t the suppression of information. It’s preventing mobilization and the creation of any practical alternatives.

So you know that the Chinese government is shot through with corruption. What are you going to do about it? Have a communist revolution? Been there, done that, doesn’t work. Have a democratic revolution? Well if you take the position that American “elites” are as bad as Chinese ones, then what’s the point?

Also bribery and trickle down works. The corrupt officials share enough of the loot so that people aren’t that interested in overthrowing the system.

joequant March 13, 2013 11:14 PM

One thing I do object to is hyperbole. The trouble with making everything into Stasi is that California is just not East Germany, and the inability to make distinctions between bad, really bad, really/really bad, and really/really/really bad makes it really impossible to make intelligent decisions and trade-offs.

There is a philosophy that all locks can be broken, the question is how quickly since it makes a difference. I subscribe to the notion that all governments are
corrupt and power-hungry, but it makes a big difference how corrupt and how power-hungry, since it makes a difference.

joequant March 13, 2013 11:59 PM

Also after seeing how the Chinese police use technology. I’m not particularly worried about a “surveillance society.” Police in authoritarian countries actually don’t use surveillance technology in the way that I’ve seen people worry about. If you are a political dissident, then they aren’t going to set up webcams around you. They are just going to assign a team of police to follow you everywhere that you go, and those police aren’t going to be hiding themselves. (And in the case of particularly prominent dissidents on special occasions, you often have a team of reporters following the police.)

One issue with authoritarian countries, is that police actually have an interest in reducing the number of people that they undertake surveillance against. Most people aren’t political dissidents, and by reducing the number of people that the police are investigating, it lets them focus on the “key people” who could be a threat to the regime.

The other thing is that most Chinese that I know have an extremely low opinion of Western news sources because Western newspapers make the entire country seem like it’s one giant prison camp when it’s not. Even when there are problems, the Western media dwells on them and gives an impression of life in China that’s quite different from daily life.

joequant March 14, 2013 12:45 AM

Also this all discussion has a smell of “first world problems” (i.e. a well fed college student talking about how poor they are while never having seen any real poverty.)

Since if you are the subject of the Chinese police investigation, they are much more interested in who your friends are than what you say to them. Once you start exchanging e-mail (even if it’s gibberish) the police have a list of names which they can send officers to physically track and arrest.

One strategy that the police use is to be nice at first. You do something that the police doesn’t like, the police ask you to voluntarily come in and drink some tea, and if you convince them that it’s a harmless prank that you won’t do again, they’ll drop the issue. If you keep pranking the police, then there is a range of increasingly strong sanctions ending with an extremely long prison sentence. There are people that believe enough in their cause to be willing to go “all the way” but most people won’t.

The one good thing is that the police really don’t want to put you in jail. They just want someone that focuses on getting rich and then forgets about the political stuff. If you agree to those terms, then they’ll leave you alone. If not, then not.

The United States and Western Europe has a very strong set of laws that control the actions of the police and protect political expression. The laws in China are much looser and if you run afoul of the police, they aren’t going to be dealing with webcams, they’ll just go and arrest you.

The fact that people are even thinking about “playing games” with surveillance tells you that it’s not a very serious problem.

One other curious thing about the Chinese legal system is that the fact that some laws do exist is because the Party itself is quite worried about keeping the police under control. Right now there is a Politburo member that is on trial, and the police have gotten a lot of its powers clipped because he was using the local police to create a local fiefdom.

joequant March 14, 2013 1:13 AM

pupkin: Same was in Russia under Stalin’s NKVD. The motive was to snitch on somebody to put person in jail/killed, then take his wife, apartment, other possesions, position of employment (get promotion on vacant now place) regardless of actual crime commited or intention to commit a crime.

Same thing happened in Maoist China. Ironically, the fact that people were motivated to snitch on each other for “personal” reasons made it difficult for the authorities to figure out who was in fact a danger to the Communist Party, and one reason that the Party massively reduced the amount of repression is to more effectively figure out who is a real threat. And sometimes the police can be a bigger threat to the regime than the people that they are spying.

It also messes up incentives. What’s the point of being a loyal Communist if loyal Communists end up in jail or worse?

Today, before they toss you in jail for political crimes, you get a trial in which you can argue that you really aren’t a threat to the Party. This is effective because if you even try to argue that you aren’t a threat, then you probably aren’t much of one.

The people that get the long jail sentences now are that people that are screaming for the overthrow of the government during their trial. There’s really no need to undertake mass surveillance for the Party to catch the major dissidents, since political dissidents can be rather loud people.

One thing that is the case is that the US and UK have people that are so used to personal liberty that even minor things will set people off. Conversely, there are lots of Chinese that have lived through hell during the 1960’s and 1970’s, so the fact that the Chinese government is snooping in people’s e-mail and being generally annoying is a level of repression that most people find refreshingly mild.

Figureitout March 14, 2013 1:55 AM

–I kinda agreed w/ you in your first few posts, but later not so much.

Comparing now to the 1940’s isn’t really good. Transistor invented 1947, now we fit billions in clay dust in a chip. Stasi of today are much more equipped.

This whole “only well-fed college students w/ 1st-world problems are crying”, no; people are friggin’ scrounging pennies, who are you friends with?

What places have you lived or are familiar with, if you care to share?

One strategy that the police use is to be nice at first.
–Yeah, me too. Then they create a friendship based on a lie all while trying to gather intel on you.

They just want someone that focuses on getting rich and then forgets about the political stuff. If you agree to those terms, then they’ll leave you alone. If not, then not.
–Umm, wtf? Sure sounds like a police state to me; what if the majority of citizens don’t want the excessive masses of police to exist?

The fact that people are even thinking about “playing games” with surveillance tells you that it’s not a very serious problem.
–Do you know what’s it like having a severe anxiety attack, like you’re about to die? Do you? It is not a game. It’s a principle. Sometimes people look real dumb fighting for them, other times, brilliant.

joequant March 14, 2013 3:53 AM

Well, I have some familiarity with China.

Transistors still can’t read minds, and the more successful authoritarian governments have figured out that political repression is easier if they don’t monitor or run people’s entire lives.

It’s actually rather hard to run a North Korean type society with high technology, since people find it difficult to design webcams at gunpoint. In order to have political repression, you have to reduce things to Singapore or Chinese levels.

Figureitout: Sure sounds like a police state to me; what if the majority of citizens don’t want the excessive masses of police to exist?

If people are mad enough to take action, then you lose.

However, that happens surprisingly rarely. It turns out that police do all sorts of useful things, and it’s not hard to convince people to support the police. The nicer the police are, the less likely that people will rise up in anger.

It’s also not a “police state” in the sense that the police are kept on a rather short leash.

Figureitout: It’s a principle. Sometimes people look real dumb fighting for them, other times, brilliant.

In a democratic society, you have the luxury of fighting for a principle without having any sort of real risk.

This isn’t the case in authoritarian societies, and when you actually end up in jail, fighting for principle. At that point, you have to decide if fighting for a principle is really worth it, and for most people, the answer is absolutely not. The people that are willing to fight to the ends of the earth, then become small enough in number so that you can just lock them up semi-permanently.

Now you can argue that the US and UK should hold itself to higher standards than China, and if that’s a valid argument. But it is something of a “cry wolf” situation when people start talking about Stasi or the Gestapo when someone installs a security camera, especially when the police in actual authoritarian societies end up being distinctly low-tech in their tactics.

Gweihir March 14, 2013 1:54 PM

Also remember that surveillance is a terror-tool: Those that think they are under surveillance start to censor themselves and stop speaking about things that are entirely legal but that they fear might be unwelcome by the authorities.

The effectiveness of this terror-tool has been widely demonstrated by totalitarian regimes. Stalinism and National Socialism did it manually, with a system of spies. The associated organizations had huge power. With technology as basis, the political class has a better chance of retaining that power. I find the story makes a lot of sense.

Hesweeney March 14, 2013 10:33 PM

Your synopsis of motivations is equal to maybe 10% of events.
True political motivations and duty are by far the greatest cause of reporting on others in nazi Germany. There is NO dispute on this by historians and researchers.
That is surveillance! The term is not confined to mechanical or electrical devices.

vasiliy pupkin March 15, 2013 9:37 AM

“Your synopsis of motivations is equal to maybe 10% of events”.
Agree with your point on Nazi Germany, but in Russia political motive was rather 10% of events, i.e. motive structure depends on ethnicity and culture. There is no universal motive structure on snooping/snitching (or as you prefer surveillance). Maybe respected blogger
@joequant could provide input on motive structure in China.

“That is surveillance! The term is not confined to mechanical or electrical devices”. That was not my point.
Just for me surveillance is more passive act, i.e. collection infromation with or without device, but without direct contact with the object.
Snooping is actively collect or even provide incentive (agent-provocator) to entrap somebody with incriminating information during direct interaction. But that more semantical rather than substantial argument.

redmondsau March 16, 2013 6:09 AM

I think that this original post is spot on. But the logical extension hasn’t been touched on.

Every oppressive regime of the past has had to have a significant number of citizens employeed as enforcers. Police, Militia and Military willing to disperse protestors, arrest agitators and disappear dissidents.

However often, eventually, these same enforcers reach a point where they are no longer willing to abuse their brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers and so the ruling elite can no longer maintain control and a revolution occurs.

But what happens when the technology reaches such a point that the ruling elite no longer need citizens to be the enforcers. They have robots, droids, UAVs. They can monitor virtually all communication, all movement, they can arrest and or kill without ever relying on another citizen getting blood on their hands.

These times are almost here. I think we are already transitioning to this state with the US leading the way. Another 10-15 years if that. The only thing that is stopping it from occuring right now is the couple of threads of law protecting human rights that still exist. But the powers that be are working very hard and diligently to remove those protections. A lot harder than the rest of the population are working to keep them.

If there is not a public uprising soon and redistribution of power and wealth back to the people it will be too late.

If you look at every right, and protection that any citizenry has evey had, they had to fight for it. It was not given it was demanded! And people almost always died for the cause. And it was it almost always won because other people would not kill for the ruling elite.

You can look at democracy, work place rights, womens rights, blacks right, America, Australia, South Africa, Europe, 1700’s, 1800’s, 1900’s and 2000’s. This is happened throughout modern history and is still happening today. But the times are a changing!

Clausewitz March 18, 2013 10:31 AM


I generally agree with you. As it applies to the US and the west generally, the military is no longer very sanguine in regards to the regime. They see the empire’s tactics are being turned inward. In the end every regime’s existence is enforced with the threat of violence. Currently the US is throwing a few people in prison for political crimes, threatening journalists and assassinating a few citizens here and there in a secretive manner, but this can’t last. There are people like Chris Hedges that are going to put forward an intellectual fight no matter what the personal cost. The regime is largely depending on tactics of instilling fear. At some point it stops working and they will pass a trigger-point threshold. The intellectual resistance is already in place.

Surveillance won’t save them, drones won’t save them. Stomping on civil rights won’t save them. Though these systems and tactics can be used in certain instances as force multipliers, they still require a level of baseline of enforcer troop strength, capability for force projection, and level of competency. This underlying foundation is eroding very quickly, no matter how many crates of toys and materiel they acquire.

At the same time, the military who has been abused by the regime for nearly a century is questioning their being killed for the cause of “freedom” in foreign lands while the regime destroys the prosperity of their own families. The current and former military personnel is preparing for a fight, hoping by doing so, it won’t come to one.

The regime enforcers have a small number of highly trained enforcers: CIA, Academi, a few DHS and a handful of law enforcement people who will go along with them, along with the control of the nuclear arsenal and air power.

However the civilian population and force for freedom, have most of the special operations groups, many field grade officers, and a large number of senior officers, over half of the infantry troops, support troops, a large number of civilians and other auxiliary personnel. These military personnel have, incidentally, just spent over 10 years refining and developing tactics for insurgency and counterinsurgency. They are experts and they are deep in contingency planning: http://randomthoughtsandguns.blogspot.com/

The narrative that civilian law enforcement will be used to neutralize these freedom supporting groups is ridiculous at best. Their “elite” LE “operators” can’t even put an optic on their rifle correctly: http://www.bob-owens.com/2013/03/eoderp-the-tactical-optic-for-the-shoulder-thing-that-goes-up/

The aforementioned force-multipliers for tyranny and high technology systems cut both ways. For the freedom fighters, they’re very fragile systems and fairly easy to break. They have tremendously long supply chains. Additionally, collecting masses of data is not magical. They still have the signal to noise problem. The more data you collect, you also collect geometrically more noise as you capture more. The signal simply disappears into the noise (Taleb – Antifragility).

The regime would be wise to begin transitioning power back to the people, and just rule of law in accordance with the constitution. If the regime forces press for a fight, they will simply and unmistakably lose. They are outnumbered, outskilled, and outgunned. It’s not even a fair fight.

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