For quick reference, here are the articles and videos I will be referring to:
- Tim Wu’s “Why Monopolies Make Spying Easier” from the New Yorker, Jun 18, 2013
- Nick Bilton’s “Internet’s Sad Legacy: No More Secrets” from the New York Times, Dec 15, 2013
- Gregory Donovan’s “Dataveillance and Everyday Consciousness in the ‘Smart’ City” lecture on May 19, 2014
- Deep Lab documentary film by Jonathan Minard
While reading Wu and Bilton’s articles, I kept thinking about movies that dramatize surveillance paranoia. In particular, Wu’s New Yorker article made me think of Eagle Eye and I, Robot, although these are both extreme examples of technological surveillance where artificial intelligence drives technology to begin surveillancing and policing humans for our own safety. Funnily enough, Bilton’s opening comment that “Anyone who can watch you will watch you” immediately brought to mind the far less anxiety-inducing Truman Show. I think this line corresponds wonderfully to the shot where Jim Carrey is entertaining himself by drawing on the bathroom mirror with soap as the television audience watches intently:
And in response to Bilton’s suggestion that even our World of Warcraft activities are being monitored, I would like to express pity for the poor soul doing that surveillancing.
Both Wu and Bilton seem to assume that we, the readers, have an inherent mistrust in the government. It’s probably a safe assumption to make, but even so, each article overlooks some important information.
In his argument that seeks to create awareness of the fact that convenience for consumers through the centralization of the Internet has made it easier for the government to compromise our privacy, Wu makes no mention of September 11th or the USA PATRIOT Act, despite his historical survey of electronic privacy. He also surprisingly omits Obama’s signing of the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act, which extended provision for roving wiretaps, the library records provision, and surveillance of lone wolves (thank you, Wikipedia). (In opposition to this omission, I think that Poitras very effectively discusses the Obama administration’s complicity in the breech on citizens’ privacy, although admittedly Poitras had an additional year and knowledge of the events depicted in Citizenfour to take a position.) Also, I find it strange that in his conclusion Wu makes reference to the assassination of President McKinley by anarchist Leon Czolgosz alongside the government surveillance during WWII and the Cold War. Not that I want to advocate for presidential assassinations in any way, but isn’t citizen retaliation against the government (à la Edward Snowden) exactly what is needed in this situation?
I find Bilton’s article to be much more sensational in its viewpoint with a tendency for the nostalgic and melodramatic. (I’m actually reminded of the 19th c. Well-Made Play. During the Act Four climax, some piece of evidence, e.g. a letter or photograph, is brought forward to incriminate the play’s antagonist. Reference to Harvey Silvergate’s Three Felonies a Day seems to suggest that the government is going to show up with surveillance evidence to incriminate us all.) The title of the article itself (“Internets Sad Legacy: No More Secrets”) certainly appeals to a reader’s nostalgia for the good ole days when a man could commit three felonies a day and not be caught. Bilton appeals to our obsessive need for privacy without suggesting what sort of incriminating things people might actually be doing or saying online. Bilton’s solution to the problem of government surveillance, namely the hope that new technology can be used to fight against current surveillance technology, fails to address the imminent need for government curtailment to prevent them from using the new technologies to increase their surveillance.
More specifically, though, both Wu and Bilton are lacking advice or guidance to their readers. They seem to suggest that being aware of the infringements on privacy is progress enough. Donovan and Deep Lab go one step further, though. Donovan asserts that people shouldn’t simply accept the notion that “we have no privacy, get over it” as the new norm. (Jacob Appelbaum makes this argument even more poignant in Citizenfour by equating contemporary notions of privacy with historical views of liberty and freedom.) Donovan’s explanation of United States v. Jones and Justice Sotomayor’s disagreement with the other justices over citizen consent very clearly illustrates that a reasonable expectation of digital privacy might be a bit too reasonable for the government. I’m also extremely enticed (and unnerved) by the sentiment in the Deep Lab short film that young individuals must make a choice between remaining culturally relevant or being safe and protecting their information. In light of this problem, Wu and Bilton’s awareness of the situation is translated into a productive question: How do we fight this incredible injustice while being open?
So, how do we fight this incredible injustice? Deleting information that is currently online won’t help since the data is already saved in the government facilities in Bluffdale, UT. Could turning off Location Services on my iPhone actually make a difference? Not if my position can still be tracked by service towers. If, like Donovan suggests, consciousness-raising activities can be anti-surveillance practices, what’s the good of being informed if we can’t fight back? To go back to Rachel’s post about Snowden coming out, is our privacy completely dependent on brave individuals who are willing to sacrifice their own freedoms in the United States for our own?