IT for Oppression

Whether it's Syria using Facebook to help identify and arrest dissidents or China using its "Great Firewall" to limit access to international news throughout the country, repressive regimes all over the world are using the Internet to more efficiently implement surveillance, censorship, propaganda, and control. They're getting really good at it, and the IT industry is helping. We're helping by creating business applications -- categories of applications, really -- that are being repurposed by oppressive governments for their own use:

  • What is called censorship when practiced by a government is content filtering when practiced by an organization. Many companies want to keep their employees from viewing porn or updating their Facebook pages while at work. In the other direction, data loss prevention software keeps employees from sending proprietary corporate information outside the network and also serves as a censorship tool. Governments can use these products for their own ends.
  • Propaganda is really just another name for marketing. All sorts of companies offer social media-based marketing services designed to fool consumers into believing there is "buzz" around a product or brand. The only thing different in a government propaganda campaign is the content of the messages.
  • Surveillance is necessary for personalized marketing, the primary profit stream of the Internet. Companies have built massive Internet surveillance systems designed to track users' behavior all over the Internet and closely monitor their habits. These systems track not only individuals but also relationships between individuals, to deduce their interests so as to advertise to them more effectively. It's a totalitarian's dream.
  • Control is how companies protect their business models by limiting what people can do with their computers. These same technologies can easily be co-opted by governments that want to ensure that only certain computer programs are run inside their countries or that their citizens never see particular news programs.

Technology magnifies power, and there's no technical difference between a government and a corporation wielding it. This is how commercial security equipment from companies like BlueCoat and Sophos end up being used by the Syrian and other oppressive governments to surveil -- in order to arrest -- and censor their citizens. This is how the same face-recognition technology that Disney uses in its theme parks ends up identifying protesters in China and Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York.

There are no easy technical solutions, especially because these four applications -- censorship, propaganda, surveillance, and control -- are intertwined; it can be hard to affect one without also affecting the others. Anonymity helps prevent surveillance, but it also makes propaganda easier. Systems that block propaganda can facilitate censorship. And giving users the ability to run untrusted software on their computers makes it easier for governments -- and criminals -- to install spyware.

We need more research into how to circumvent these technologies, but it's a hard sell to both the corporations and governments that rely on them. For example, law enforcement in the US wants drones that can identify and track people, even as we decry China's use of the same technology. Indeed, the battleground is often economic and political rather than technical; sometimes circumvention research is itself illegal.

The social issues are large. Power is using the Internet to increase its power, and we haven't yet figured out how to correct the imbalances among government, corporate, and individual interests in our digital world. Cyberspace is still waiting for its Gandhi, its Martin Luther King, and a convincing path from the present to a better future.

This essay previously appeared in IEEE Computers & Society.

Posted on April 3, 2013 at 7:29 AM • 38 Comments

Comments

jakeApril 3, 2013 8:02 AM

"We need more research into how to circumvent these technologies, but it's a hard sell to both the corporations and governments that rely on them. For example, law enforcement in the US wants drones that can identify and track people, even as we decry China's use of the same technology."

as many of us have noticed, expecting the law to catch up with the technology is extremely naive. the best course of action is to stay educated and protect yourself with the proper tech.

- run an open source OS
- use full disk encryption
- use client-side encryption when storing data in the "cloud"

being careful with your data storage helps moderate censorship, surveillance and control. note that this does not protect you from your way-too-open facebook profile or your fly-off-the-handle twitter account.

OrinApril 3, 2013 8:10 AM

Reading "The Net Delusion" by Morozov and he has some interesting thoughts on the truthiness of the belief that increased technology, such as twitter, breeds democracy.

Basically he says it's bollocks.

vasiliy pupkinApril 3, 2013 9:46 AM

"and we haven't yet figured out how to correct the imbalances among government, corporate, and individual interests in our digital world".

My view how to balance interests: Government can do what is exactly autorized by Law only. What is not allowed for Government by Law and affected Corporation or individual is prohibited.
Individual can do anything that is not directly banned by Law, i.e.
what is not prohibited is allowed. Period.
Corporation can do whatever is not directly banned by Law taking civil resposibility for consequences. Corpoartion when dealing with individual should clear disclose upfront in plain English what is Corporation intended to do within scope not banned by Law towards individual, property, privacy, data, etc.

Those are general principles regardless of technology under consideration for law-guided State claimed to be democratic.

Small addition: Laws should clear as well, not accordeon laws which are worse than clear but iron laws. Latter provides more predictability of application at least.


JaredApril 3, 2013 9:53 AM

Ted Kaczynski had it right.

"95: The degree of personal freedom that exists in a society is determined more by the economic and technological structure of the society than by its laws or its form of government. Most of the Indian nations of New England were monarchies, and many of the cities of the Italian Renaissance were controlled by dictators. But in reading about these societies one gets the impression that they allowed far more personal freedom than our society does. In part this was because they lacked efficient mechanisms for enforcing the ruler’s will: There were no modern, well-organized police forces, no rapid long-distance communications, no surveillance cameras, no dossiers of information about the lives of average citizens. Hence it was relatively easy to evade control."

"#130: Technology advances with great rapidity and threatens freedom at many different points at the same time...To hold back any ONE of the threats to freedom would require a long and difficult social struggle. Those who want to protect freedom are overwhelmed by the sheer number of new attacks and the rapidity with which they develop, hence they become apathetic and no longer resist. To fight each of the threats separately would be futile. Success can be hoped for only by fighting the technological system as a whole; but that is revolution, not reform."

From:
http://archive.org/details/IndustrialSocietyAndItsFuture-TheUnabombersManifesto

Also interesting: paragraphs 163-166.

Use the master's tools to destroy the master's house. That's the only thing technology is good for now.

George DApril 3, 2013 10:01 AM

>> Companies have built massive Internet surveillance systems designed to track users' behavior all over the Internet and closely monitor their habits.

Indeed. But strange and disturbing that most continue to focus only on government abuse of power and information control.

But if governments were doing the things that private corporations do now, we'd have a revolution and people would crying communism, totalitarianism, going crazy with revolt, etc. Yet, somehow it's considered legit because it's not being done to us "by the government."

Private, unaccountable corporate power needs to be given the same critical eye that we direct towards government power, perhaps even more so imho.

In addition, we're seeing private competitive companies moving to being oligopolies / monopolies in RECORD time, largely as a result of how technology is being used can be used to cement power in the marketplace.

David GolumbiaApril 3, 2013 10:41 AM

Thank you for keeping up on this theme (the same one, I've mentioned, that my book is about: that you can't on the one hand say technology empowers, and then on the other say that those with power are somehow dis-empowered by technology--a thesis which the facts clearly disprove, unless one thinks Schumpeterian creative destruction is actually disempowering to corporate capital, which it is not.) As you say, but it is so hard for people to hear: the solutions to these problems are not technical. They are political. More disturbingly, belief that there are technical solutions to the problem makes finding political solutions more difficult, not less.

And the reason it is hard for people to hear is because of a deep faith in the general beneficence of digital technology (and the massive corporate interests that promote it) that is actually a huge part of the problem. Open source, HTTPS, etc., will not solve this. Getting technology into some more democratic control (which it is ironically about as far away today as it's ever been, if not farther, despite all the talk of "transparency" and "open government," because of that unexamined faith in technological benevolence) is the imperative on which we should all be focused at this point. It's not even clear what that would mean or what form it could take, but the current regime of absolute power going to corporations and unelected takers of power (aka "hackers") is among the most dangerous political formations we have seen in history.

Bob TApril 3, 2013 10:44 AM

If Tocqueville had written this 170 years later, he would only have to add the effects of technology to the mix.

From:
WHAT SORT OF DESPOTISM DEMOCRATIC NATIONS HAVE TO FEAR

"I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."

anonApril 3, 2013 11:04 AM

One reason that the Government earns the special ire of libertarians is that it, and it alone, wields the Hobbesian sword enforcing the Law.

A moment's thought would suggest that this mandates that the Government be separated quite forcibly from influence of the mighty, as they will ensure the sword does not touch their necks. But this thought has not been well-propagandaized, for reasons that are also obvious.

John SchillingApril 3, 2013 2:30 PM

@Jake:

None of the cited methods by which governments use IT for oppression, involve hacking into brave civil libertarians' computers to get at their data. So it is unclear to me how your proposed open-source OS and secure encryption are supposed to help.

An oppressive government doesn't much care what's on your computer; mostly it just wants to know is going over your Wi-Fi or DSL feed. And all it really needs to know is what addresses your feed is pointing to; the actual data or content can be as securely encrypted as you like, and they'll still know whether you are one of the people who needs to be "disappeared" in the name of their security.

transparencyApril 3, 2013 3:16 PM

Censorship, propaganda, surveillance, and control were invented against consumers for companies, and lobbies adapted the law to allow them. Guess that when states uses them, they are still against the citizen.

Censorship, propaganda, and control should be forbidden even for companies. With transparency in companies so that individuals can scrutinize companies and enforce that.

AlexApril 3, 2013 5:53 PM

"Surveillance is necessary for personalized marketing, the primary profit stream of the Internet"

Is there any evidence that personalized marketing is the primary profit stream of the Internet? Is there even evidence that personalized marketing is a majority of the profit stream of marketing on the Internet, or that marketing is the primary profit stream of the Internet?

The ad industry flacks (IAB, DAA, NAI) would tell you that the Internet was built on advertising, but their job is to protect the interest of their members, or at least to protect their own revenue streams.

anonApril 3, 2013 11:42 PM

Got to peel your eyes for the heat, my dear, you got to froth and foam.
Got to send away the mad puppeteer, who seems to think this is home.
~ from "B'wana - He No Home" by Michael Franks

verstappApril 4, 2013 2:07 AM

for all the GB of data they have on me, they still haven't worked out how to advertise to me something that i'm interested in buying.
stuff that i'm totally uninterested in buying, otoh...

Clive RobinsonApril 4, 2013 2:30 AM

@ verstap,

... they still haven't worked out how to advertise to me something that i'm interested in buying. stuff that i'm totally uninterested in buying, otoh...

You mean that you are not a fish in need of a bicycle?

Phil SmithApril 4, 2013 3:49 AM

We certainly live in worrying times. I definitely agree with that.

The fact is that the same tools that are the weapons of freedom are also the weapons of totalitarian regimes.

You won't find companies researching "freedom tools". That is a job that will always be left to individuals and those with slightly anarchic tendencies.

The good news is that there are still plenty of those!

So while we will no doubt all end up being microchipped. I have no doubt that someone will come up with a with of removing it.

Peter A.April 4, 2013 6:27 AM

@verstapp: Same with me. Occasionally I get ads that fall in the general area of my interest, but I can count the number times I actually followed an ad on my fingers - and I don't remember a single case of buying something because I got an ad for it.

The problem is that you, me and other technically-savvy, logical, reasonable people are not the major target of marketing campaigns. They target gullible people, who would buy almost anything attractively presented and/or falsely described, or who will shift their brand preferences in response to dummy arguments, emotional statements or just sexy pictures.

The 'targeting' by exploiting surveillance data allows campaigners to better tune their messages so they trigger the response is such people more often. So it is like lowering a ballistic missile's CEP from 20 miles to 5 miles, not like using laser-guided munitions (yet?)

Clive RobinsonApril 4, 2013 7:07 AM

@ Peter A.

The problem is that you, me and other technically savvy, logical, reasonable people are not the major target of marketing campaigns

Oh dear, that means at best, we fit the category SuperMarket Marketing types refer to as the "barnacles" :-(

Sadly those types are not sufficiently self aware to have a category of "lamprey" [1]

[1] Lamprey's are best known as a lith preditor that latches on like a limpet and sucks the guts out of the host ;-)

VlesApril 4, 2013 7:11 AM

The best way to turn a ship around or take a different course is to convince/persuade its captain. But to have them thinking with you would be even better.

Ships:
http://www.ameliaindia.com/Top%20100%20IT%20Companies%20List.htm

What's the saying, "great minds think alike?" Are there any CEO's out there that mull over the current state of IT affairs, future-philosophise and have some great ideas? Are there any out there that completely disagree with what Bruce is saying? That would be interesting....

themanwhowasntthereApril 4, 2013 7:47 AM

Without The Authorities, The Rebellion has no way to justify their wrongs. And, without The Rebellion, the Authorities have no way to justify their tyranny.

The two work together. They need each other.

There are followers and there are leaders. The leaders help the followers justify their own wrongs. They need their tyrants. And they usually need their tyrants in sheep's clothing.

This entire system is flawed and there is no way out of it.

Whether their tyrants are politicians in fancy suits, or wannabe tyrants in fancy suits currently in guerrilla costumes -- it is the same thing.

Both put on faces of fighting the good fight and being noble people serving the cause of the people. Both are in it for themselves and mad with dreams of power.

The reason is they all want a king, a savior, but they already have the only good one and have rejected him: God.

So, God turns them over to other suitors, people with depraved minds.

unkle joe's helperApril 4, 2013 9:02 AM

In his book "Hacking Capitalism: The Free and Open Source Software Movement," Johan Söderberg puts it like this:

The architecture of the Internet is rebuilt with three main purposes in mind. To protect the commodity form (obstruct infinite reproducibility and identify violations), to speed up commodity circulation, and to prevent users from acquiring technical know-how.

and

The infrastructure of the Internet is currently being rebuilt to respond better to the needs of law authorities. The computer network has the same strategic importance as the central squares of the chessboard. All activities have to pass through them.

Bob TApril 4, 2013 9:40 AM

Information Technology doesn't oppress people. People oppress people. There's no real difference when the technology to oppress people was limited to guns or spears. When you get concentrated power without an adhered to governing document, you have arbitrary rule which leads to oppression.

Too bad we have Republicans and Democrats (both parties are constitutional liberals as far as I'm concerned) who wrap themselves in the flag calling constitutional conservatives radicals. Well, neither feel themselves bound to honor your rights if it gets in the way of what they want. Apparently, the process of amending the Constitution is too slow with uncertain ends. Truly, it has more to do with wanting to achieve a level of control in order to meet an end rather than specifically oppressing people. They think, "Well, we want this intel, so we need to centralize this capability, and..."

Over time it's just more and more encroachment with little push back from the public. Eventually, there will be leaders who aren't so benevolent, who will use information technology (and weaponry) as a source of oppression on their own people rather than as a tool thwart outside enemies.

Clive RobinsonApril 4, 2013 10:48 AM

@ Bob T,

Eventually there will be leaders who aren't so benevolent who will use information technology (and weaponry) as a source of oppression on their own people rather than as a tool thwart outside enemies

Err not quite.

When you study those "leaders who aren't so benevolent" you will discover that as far as they are concerned anyone not in their small trusted circle are potentialy "outside enemies". Thus they feal fully justified on using any "technology and weapons" available for whatever level of oppression they deem appropriate on these potential enemies. The fact that those the leader consider to be "outside enemies" regard themselves as the (supposadly) elected leaders "own people" matters not one jot to the leader, if anything in the leaders eyes it makes them more dangerous.

It is something you should always remember when you see who the leader appoints to positions of power. Those people are being put there not to serve the people or provide justice, their sole purpose is to support and protect the leader.

In the UK the last elected Labour MP Tony Blair was obviously doing just that. He placed a number of people in Cabinet positions that they were ill equiped to hold. Tony Blair knew this and above all, those put in those positions knew this as well. Thus when things went wrong as expected in such ministries irrespective of the capabilities of the cabinet post holder, Tony Blair knew that the post holder would willingly fall on their swords to protect Tony and his "saintly image". And importantly the now ex-post holder knew that provided they laid low and stayed "on message", that Tony would after a period of time bring them back in to other senior posts...

vasiliy pupkinApril 4, 2013 11:29 AM

@George D • April 3, 2013 10:01 AM
I agree with your point. The most dangerous is unregulated and uncontrolled by judiciary Government-private sector cooperation on surveillance, aka fusion centers.

SnallaBolagetApril 4, 2013 12:16 PM

There's some mix-up in the origin story you've got there, Bruce.

Basically, governments are still doing what they've always done, using censorship and propaganda and surveillance, while private industry is repurposing those techniques for their own cause.

Also, "governments" invented the internet. So there's that...

DaedalusApril 4, 2013 8:56 PM

"We need more research into how to circumvent these technologies, but it's a hard sell to both the corporations and governments that rely on them. For example, law enforcement in the US wants drones that can identify and track people, even as we decry China's use of the same technology. Indeed, the battleground is often economic and political rather than technical; sometimes circumvention research is itself illegal."

I think it is very clear that a government that wants drones that can identify and track down people is a very dangerous government. :-) LOL.

The US just does not have enough of any manner of threat to justify the creation of such drones.

Yes, in some high profile media cases drones have taken down some terrorists.

Because you, know, those tricky bastards are using cars and we do not have snipers, rocket launchers, helicopter gunships, targeted bombs, and definitely not any accomplished assassins that could have snuck in there and planted a mine or bomb on there.

No machine guns.

No, they spent an enormous amount of actual real energy finding the guy, then they go, "No, not that, not this, not that -- we can use the drone! Think of the publicity! A propaganda coup!"

Meanwhile, they get wined and dined by private interest firms so they can sign contracts.

And relish the idea of being able to use drones to hunt down their own enemies. Nobody messes with a guy in charge of drones!

I imagine these guys sit around and fantasize about when drones will finally be able to be used in the states.

Just imagining the horror on people's faces. What a way to keep the population in check. Don't rebel or have an opinion they disagree with, or they might just push a button and send a drone to hunt you down! Lol.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57577887-38/apples-imessage-encryption-trips-up-feds-surveillance/

"This echoes what other law enforcement agencies have been telling politicians on Capitol Hill for years. Last May, CNET reported that the FBI has quietly asked Web companies not to oppose a law that would levy new wiretap requirements on social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail. During an appearance two weeks later at a Senate hearing, the FBI's Mueller confirmed that the bureau is pushing for "some form of legislation.""

These are the same guys who are still trying to destabilize the internet by reducing security. Not privacy. Security. Encryption is required for basic internet security.

Some could say, "Nah!" And put their heads in the sand, but the reality is these guys fought strong encryption for the internet tooth and nail from the beginning.

Who would vote for more drones? If the American people were actually given a real vote, would they vote for a weaker internet so the feds could have an easier time surveilling them?

But, democracy does not work that way. You have to have people to do the voting for you.

It would be nice to see a book or some convincing papers showing people just how much needed all of the "free" world governments surveillance programs are needed to combat the evil menace out there. How they are our saviors.

Because you really do not see that at all. Because the vast majority of their surveillance probably is illegal to begin with, and the rest is simply immoral and unethical with no results whatsoever.

But what does that matter? It is not like the people can view any of their work. It is national security.

These people also do not care that the US has a very porous internet border with China. That is how they make money and fund their programs.

They lost the war against Phil Zimmerman, but there are many more wars the public surely does not know about which they won.

Wars that enabled them to spy more on citizens, and wars that enabled internet crime and espionage to skyrocket.

'Absolute secrecy corrupts absolutely', and 'absolute power corrupts absolutely'.

I think that the "free" world is very much in decline.


FigureitoutApril 4, 2013 11:59 PM

@Daedalus
...accomplished assassins
--It's easy to murder someone, so why we elevate hit[wo]men is beyond me. If the victim is given fair warning that someone is about to murder them, and the murderer always wins, that may be something; otherwise it's a weak coward murdering people when they're trying to live. Technology accentuates the weakness; if you're going to murder someone, then be the person to get the blood splatter in your face and the dying screams of horror permanently lodged in your brain so you realize what you're doing.

I couldn't agree more w/ your point that a lot of surveillance involves just disgusting amounts of waste. Waste of talent, time (that could be spent working on mysteries of nature), electricity, memory, trust. It's a waste of trust.

joequantApril 5, 2013 3:44 AM

Can anyone provide a citation that the Chinese government uses face recognition technology to identify protesters? I haven't heard of this, and I don't think that in fact the police do it.

The reason is that in most Chinese protests it's assumed by the protesters that they will be identified, and the point of having a large protest is so that the police can't arrest everyone. It's pretty common for an entire village or an entire company to join a protest at which point the police already know all of the members.

What the police are interested in are who are the leaders of the protest, and that's something you can't figure out with security cameras. Usually the leaders of the protest are the people that the police want to arrest and/or negotiate with, and it's pretty common that you have a protest, the authorities will give in, and the leaders will get short jail sentences.

Also, I think it's a *big* mistake to confuse marketing surveillance, people getting arrested in China, and people getting shot in Syria. One problem with security discussion is that people that want more security consciousness run the risk of looking paranoid or crying wolf. Arguing that if we don't put limits on e-mail marketing then tomorrow we'll have people shot in the street, is not going to get people interested in these issues, in large part because it isn't true.

joequantApril 5, 2013 3:58 AM

Scheiner: For example, law enforcement in the US wants drones that can identify and track people, even as we decry China's use of the same technology. Indeed, the battleground is often economic and political rather than technical.

Conversely, one very good argument that the Chinese government uses to justify some of the things that it does is "well the US does it too." Sometimes that happens to be true. There was a recent revision of the Criminal Procedure Law, and there was a lot of debate over detention limits. The compromise that was reached was the government could detain people without trial without judicial approval in cases of terrorism or national security. (And yes there was an intense debate over this in the National People's Congress, and the police backed down from some of their initial proposals. Most people in the United States actually find it surprising that China has legislative debates. Heck most people in the US don't realize that China has laws and a legislature.)

Now there are people that would like to argue that detention without trial or judicial approval is a fundamental human right, but you just mention Guantanamo and people will laugh at you if you make that argument. (And oddly enough the type of detention that people have in Guantanamo would be completely illegal under Chinese law. They might give you a show trial, but they have to give you a trial, and civilians are not subject to the jurisdiction of military courts.)

Also complaining that China does X when the US also does X is one reason that most people in China doesn't take seriously anything the US government says about human rights or democracy. If the US complains that China is violating human rights by using drones, the general assumption is that the US just doesn't want China to have drone technology.

DaedalusApril 5, 2013 8:16 AM

@Figureitout

"--It's easy to murder someone, so why we elevate hit[wo]men is beyond me. If the victim is given fair warning that someone is about to murder them, and the murderer always wins, that may be something; otherwise it's a weak coward murdering people when they're trying to live. Technology accentuates the weakness; if you're going to murder someone, then be the person to get the blood splatter in your face and the dying screams of horror permanently lodged in your brain so you realize what you're doing.
I couldn't agree more w/ your point that a lot of surveillance involves just disgusting amounts of waste. Waste of talent, time (that could be spent working on mysteries of nature), electricity, memory, trust. It's a waste of trust."

For strategic interests, the US does not have much business remaining in Iraq or Afghanistan. Unless they plan to go to war with Iran, because they have sandwiched Iran.

For strategic interests, the US does not have much value in killing what is ultimately low level players in a low level action against them. It simply makes good press. It serves the country very poorly, and it is a massive waste of resources.

If they must deal with them, they should take the time and trouble to capture them. But they are low level players and they know that, so they do not bother.

They should be focusing on their real world strategic interests, if they are thinking they are serving their nation. Most of that is not about going around and flexing their muscles to the world. Unless they want to be the target of global fear and hatred.

These groups they are fighting are usually nothing, it is the national interests behind them, the money and power brokers they should be concerned with. And they get little from murdering them, much from watching them.

So, I do think nations have strategic interests in surveillance. That is international surveillance -- not internal surveillance.

I do not believe nations law enforcement has no reason to surveil criminals. But, in a Democracy and a nation that has as its' stance to strive for freedom... it goes against all those principles to mass surveil their own citizens.

Nobody is voting in these wide ranging powers they have granted to themselves, and there is no public inspection on these issues because it is all "national security".

These concerns are not out of line because US law enforcement has a deep and long history of vastly abusing surveillance on their own citizens.

The same is true with most other similar nations.

And the same is definitely true with nations in general. When their law enforcement could do this, they did, and they were corrupted by it.

bitmonkiApril 5, 2013 7:41 PM

The internet has ads on it?

Thanks Firefox, AdBlockPlus and DoNotTrackMe!

GweihirApril 5, 2013 11:39 PM

I have to say I find this quite a threat. All those efforts to establish ubiquitous camera surveillance and Internet monitoring in Europe with bogus arguments (copyright infringement -> kiddy porn -> "terrorism" -> "cyber"-"war") are increasingly transparent and clearly, the purpose is just to be able to watch everybody all the time. The only thing preventing a dictatorship are the people controlling these technologies. As could be seen nicely in the history of Germany, Italy, and others, government employees will readily follow orders regardless how illegal and amoral as soon as they feel even a bit threatened, i.e. they are not protection at all. Judges are not really better here, and they are increasingly cut out of the loop anyways. Hence making sure these infrastructures are not only not established, but outlawed and banned as extremely amoral and despicable is the only possible protection. Unfortunately, the populations of the western democracies are currently and collectively not getting it at all. Just like in Germany 1933. In a very real sense, Hitler was voted into power. It seems to me that the western world has learned nothing. Not that the rest of the world is any better.

aboniksApril 6, 2013 2:40 PM

Perhaps it's time to admit that the only relevant distinction between "business" and "government" is that businesses must remain solvent in order to continue operating.

Except when governments decide otherwise, of course, and prop them up.

The interface between the two types of organizations is the legal code, and both sides have the power to change it as they see fit, given enough capital or motivation.

"We", as individuals, are essentially left reacting to the changes. If an individual wants to be proactive, they need to join one side or the other in a position of control.

Or they can vote. /sarc

AnonApril 9, 2013 1:24 AM

This is a great article on the parallels between corporations and government. However, Bruce doesn't follow the logic to the full conclusion that modern day corporations are as much if not more than a surveillance threat than government agencies. I've never understand why some civil libertarians think Facebook/Google data mining is good, but NSA data mining is bad.

Clive RobinsonApril 9, 2013 3:21 AM

@ Anon,

I've never understand why some civil libertarians think Facebook/Google data mining is good, but NSA data mining is bad

Perhaps their limited perception not their ideology.

For instance I have absolutly nothing what so ever to do with Facebook, so I could reason they would have no reason to have information on me.

To many people that is how they see it as a conscious choice to use or not use Facebook [1]. Thus the personal data loss is the price of entry.

What they can see through press reporting etc is the "Oh so Secret NSA" is hovering up every bit of electronic data be it phone, fax or data.

That is many people see the NSA as not a choice of lifestyle issue but a "necessary evil" they cannot avoid.

What the average person usually fails to do is say to themselves "what's the reason to gather the data" and simplisticaly the two reasons are profit and control. Even if they do, they usually assume a company making a profit is benign or good for the economy, not so about control as that smacks of totalitarianism and police states.

They usually don't go on to consider it a two step process where in effect those desiring control give profit to those collecting the data [2].

It's the same with "fines and taxes" taxes have to be payed irrespective and fines only if you've done something wrong and been caught. What people don't realise is that the definition of "wrong" is fairly meaningless when fines are used as a revenue raising measure [3] by the local authorities.

In almost all cases the "perception gap" is deliberatly exploited by those who's interests it is in getting a certain desirable (ie profitable or controling) set of behaviours out of others.

[1] However it is a view made without understanding that Facebook very probably holds data on them even if they have never been online, due to the behaviour of others who are or are associated with Facebook users.

[2] This "two step" or "arms length" surveillance gets around all sorts of legislation such as FOI requests because it's "Commercial in confidence" which is why it's become the norm by WASP Nation States but the average person does not make the connection.

[3] Usually these revenue systems are based around peoples vehicles/driving. In some places it is not possible to park even if you are a disabled person who cannot possibly get around in any other way but you are still required by law to attend these places. The result is not a fine which might be avoidable, but a de facto tax on required personal mobility, or more simply "damed if you do damed if you don't". For others where driving is perhaps a choice or lifestyle issue not an absolut necessity the level of "wrong" is set by the desired income, this is seen with things like "stop light" fines and unaccountable changes in speed on roads where there are speeding cameras. They are selected such that the income is raised from a percentage of people who are unaware of how the system has been setup.

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