Since I manage an internet privacy company, people expect me to be pessimistic on the development of the surveillance state. But even I didn’t expect the surveillance state to form this quickly.
2012 has been a banner year for amoral marketers and soul-dead overseers, and the situation is probably much worse than you realize. Allow me to illustrate it briefly:
A surveillance system has been installed inside of Facebook. (See this, and this.)
AT&T has been giving all of its Internet traffic to the NSA since at least 2006. (See this.)
Union thugs have no problem intercepting emails. (See here.)
Newspapers are having no problems intercepting emails. (See here.)
Stores are now installing face recognition systems. (Here.)
The FedGuv is paying big bucks for systems to “predict crime.” (Here.)
The FBI is building a nation-wide facial recognition system. (Here.)
Biometric identification is being rolled out in grammar schools. (Here.)
I could go on at some length, but I think this list makes my point.
I’m actually hesitant to tell you more, because it may overwhelm you, which is not helpful. But we don’t have the luxury of time, and you should know.
The really scary thing is that after the various groups (guv, corp, intel, mafia) have all this information (and they do trade amongst themselves), they use it to generate individual-specific feedback. You’ve seen this for several years already. For example, after you do a Google search on skis you get ads for discount travel to Vail. Please understand that this was just the initial phase.
Email providers like Google, Yahoo, AOL and the rest have dossiers on you: who you talk to, about what, how often, and much, much more. A few years ago, Google’s boss arrogantly bragged in public: We know what you’re going to do Tuesday morning.
But even this is nothing, compared to what’s being built just outside of your view.
Psychologists and marketing experts are being employed to take the information they have on you (a very detailed virtual ‘you’), then to invisibly guide you toward decisions that they think are “better for you.” I know that this sounds like a distopian novel, but it’s very real.
The instigator and architect of this dark story is a “legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and behavioral economics.” If that weren’t bad enough, he’s also the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs – one of Obama’s “Czar” positions.
His name is Cass Sunstein, and he is as high in the US power structure as one can get. His wife – just to give you a feel for how very deeply connected this guy is – is a Special Assistant to the President, runs the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, and is on the Staff of the National Security Council.
I am detailing all of this so you’ll get the full impact of the things Sunstein has been writing in books and scholarly papers. For example:
It is legitimate for choice architects to influence people’s behavior. (These “choice architects” are Sunstein and his academic/government friends.)
Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories.
Government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes.
And yes, this is precisely what is taking shape now, generally under the name of soft paternalism. This suite of operations (not just one) has government, corporate and academic support, and lots of experts are getting very nice paychecks for building it (while avoiding their moral senses).
Consider also that advertisers are finding their holy grail in this: being able to catch you just at the moment when you’re in the mood, then delivering a custom ad that shows you precisely how to scratch the itch they implanted.
What these systems provide is unseen, persistent, scientific manipulation, based upon deep psychological profiles.
With all the data that is currently available to these people, and given the immense computing power that they now have, personalized manipulations can be prepared for an unlimited number of individuals, automatically, and at a very low cost.
What all of this means, of course, is the the open Internet is becoming a real-world version of The Matrix, where people are endlessly manipulated by amoral advertisers and eager government overlords. If you think that this sounds too dramatic, check the links and the quotes. What do you think?
In order to retain our own thoughts in a world of ubiquitous manipulation, our first job is to secure places of refuge: locations where the manipulators can’t reach us or intercept our communications. There are several ways to do this, all of them with a price attached.
One method is to use the Tor system. This requires you to learn some technical things, to spend time implementing them, and to pay close attention to security issues. You’ll also have to setup special email and chat systems, using public key encryption. These are all good things to do, of course, but it’s a lot to keep track of.
The other option is to……..