(in a way) total surveillance could equal liberty – here’s how (don’t hold your breath tho’)

There’s a fairly dumb contradiction being promoted at the moment.

On the one hand, we’re told – by those who do the surveilling – that surveillance was never more total nor complete in human history than now.

On the other hand, we’re told – by those who do the surveilling – that surveillance strategies, tools and orgs were never in need of more resources than today, and in the future.


Because the baddies are getting even worse.

The logical conclusion, as the baddies get so bad, and even total surveillance isn’t infinite enough, will be that no human rights will remain for us to enjoy.

As I suggested yesterday:

We don’t need this. We really don’t. We don’t need a state which perceives the condition-at-birth of every future citizen as being a potential criminal within the people.

Something else, however, in yesterday’s thoughts, continues to gnaw away at me.  In particular, this section from the Huffington Post piece I quoted, which in turn quotes from government documents:

The report also notes that “online networks and communities” could provide a “pathway into serious and organised crime”.

The underlying assumption – I presume, anyway – is that if you go with corporate-based social-networking, you’re OK as far as the government is concerned.  Corporate for them is good: you only need one meeting with one CEO to command the attention of 100,000 cascaded workers – and, also presumably, billions of end-users.  (It’s manifestly not true, as the various banking scandals demonstrate – but, hey-ho, when did the truth need to get in the way?)

Meanwhile, little micro-biz needs to be battered into submission, as the attention you’d need to give it would far outweigh the time centralised governance cares to fork out and spend on those millions of little people.

No.  I’m not trying to get you to shed tears for small people.  In a sense, I can understand government’s thinking here.  Unfortunately for them, and for us too, top-down communication of the minister-to-CEO sort we’re discussing is very 19th century; very kings and queens; very demonstrably inefficient as far as the goals in question are concerned.

So we do need another way.

Back to total surveillance.

If it could be made to work as they claim it already does (something I’m not absolutely sure events are proving to be currently true), we could all have the freedom to set up in perfect transparency any number of local community websites, wikis and communication tools that we’d like.


Total surveillance, once the original shock of the new was overcome, could quite logically lead to a set of greater liberties – different from those previously enjoyed, but just as real all the same.

The liberties would be, at the very least, twofold:

  1. Freedom not to have to communicate via exclusively corporate means.
  2. The right to choose any size or structure of local communication networks.

Coupled with the manifest aim of democratic constitutions for such local organisations and infrastructures, we could actually use the concept of total surveillance to our benefit.

One problem.

I don’t believe those who run total surveillance believe in making it easy for micro-biz to do its thing, nor difficult for large corporate orgs to be in more or less complete control.  Those who run total surveillance are, themselves, working in corporate orgs.  It’s natural, then, that they should find it easy to discard corporate corruption and crime as occasional exceptions to the rule of broad corporate probity and see micro-orgs as generally threatening.

Is this problem insoluble – or does it require a process of education?

Education, after all, has allowed much of the good in the world to continue its steady march.

We’ll see.

I, myself, have to be hopeful.

Without hope, where would we be?

we used to flog books; now we flog bloggers

In the culture I grew up alongside (I’m only half-English, so only half-inside; in fact, probably even less than half: my wife and children are Spanish, so there’s a third culture to love), there was always a surfeit of content to be bought and read.

We called them books when I grew up: books, magazines (remember magazines?  In particular, the specialist ones; the hobbyist ones; the clever ones; the crazy and wild …); and then there were newspapers too – especially the Sunday newspapers.

What a luxury, spread out like a picnic blanket in a meadow of grand grace – but in this case the meadow happened to be one’s living-room, and you’d find yourself sitting on as much of the sofa as you could grab.

All the different sections that overcame one’s resolve to finish before lunch.

Many a roast burnt due to the Observer, incompletely read.

Many a lunch late because the next section, the one kept lovingly to the last, just had to be read before the potatoes could be rescued.

Clive James.  Katherine Whitehorn.  Am I right in remembering these names?

Not any more, of course; now, it’s all “content”.  Streamed, licensed, electronic, virtual … always at one’s fingertips, never in one’s hands; no longer piling up forgotten, though not unloved, on a dusty bottom shelf or in those shabby but never discarded cardboard boxes we’d nick from the local super.

Then I moved to Spain, and goodness me – how I loved the quioscos: the often sizeable brown huts of aluminium construction; dotted around the city streets with their splaying-out doors; laden with editorial product as far as the eye could see.

And the eye could see.

That was the real grandness of it all.

Last time I was in Spain, so many of them shut down, for sale, no longer displaying their wares; no longer pushing those eternal book collections.

So sad it was, for me anyway.  A passing of an age.

Two countries, that was, where I lived and came to love the whole idea and industry of flogging books.

Nowadays, some societies prefer – instead – to flog bloggers.

I’m not sure that this instinct in certain mediated ways – the instinct to instil fear into communicators at all levels and of all skills, I mean – won’t become more common.

Thankfully, the British state doesn’t sanction the use of corporal punishment against its subjects.  I sincerely hope it won’t in the future either.

But what I can say – without fear of equivocating a reality that’s getting more and more complex to triangulate as time goes by – runs … well … as follows: I much preferred the time when what made the news was publishers flogging books.

And those are the times – together – we must get back to.

do governments like cameron’s have journalism in their cross-hairs?

The Guardian publishes this really rather terrifying article – mainly because of its far-reaching implications.  The article subheading suggests the following:

The UK government doesn’t need the ability to read all communications to keep Britons safe. Using the Paris attacks to claim that they do is galling

(Where not gauling …)

A key paragraph tells us that (the bold is mine):

Even Cameron acknowledged yesterday that his proposed powers were “very intrusive.” What he didn’t acknowledge, however, was there’s absolutely no public evidence Charlie Hebdo murderers used encryption to communicate at all. Even if they did, we know from the Snowden documents that the GCHQ or NSA still have ways to access their messages. But neither of these facts stopped Cameron from cravenly capitalizing on the tragedy in an attempt to push for powers his government has been from demanding for years.

Some of the implications are not spelt out, however.  One, in particular.  That journalistic practice is deliberately, ultimately, under attack here.

There seems to be a wider movement abroad at the moment.  From the #EUVAT scandal, where digital micro-businesses across Europe have had no option but to shut up shop, to the idea – I suggest, and wonder, right now – that legally employed encryption may sooner or later only be available to large corps, the life and micro-flora and fauna of entrepreneurial instincts would appear to be on the sacrificial table of future policy-making and government action.

What do I mean exactly?

Firstly, it’s much easier for governments and security services to deal with, make policy for and control a handful of representatives from large companies than attempt to coordinate the needs and opinions of millions of little home-office outfits, each scrimping and saving and working their ways through life in frankly far more unpredictable ways.

An example of what our high and mighty leaders and analysts might fear.  Who knows what nasty small groupings might be hidden beneath the other hundreds and thousands, maybe millions, which a properly entrepreneurial Europe could create in the future?

No.  Much better to destroy all micro-businesses, and keep heavily governanced tabs on the VAT-registered behemoths.

Now to my second point.  It may not just be business in the cross-hairs of governments like Cameron’s.  What if the fear of a socially-networked and supported journalism – eagerly eagle-eyed in its unending vigilance of all things corporate and undemocratic – should be perceived as far too risky a thing to manage; should be perceived as something which must be insistently cowed?

What if it’s actually the whole practice of journalism – as we currently perceive it – that Cameron & Co want to besmirch and make logistically impossible to carry out?

Just think about the implications: without a minimum of encryption – and with all the backdoors, trapdoors and exploits cleverly exploited over the years, it’s only a minimum we currently have anyway – who will dare to ever whistleblow a powerful man, woman or org to any newspaper worth its distribution figures?

How could you possibly even consider, as a small individual, taking the first step and contacting such an organ, when everyone and their cat was warning you the government would be in there from the very beginning?

They’d force you into thinking you were evil, just because you were trying to denounce something that was evil.

And so, in the medium-term, journalism – the best of it – would lose its considerable shine; would lose its power to attract the privileged intel that is its lifeblood.

Without witnesses prepared to bear witness, does a crime ever get committed?

For by arguing that, quite unnecessarily, GCHQ needs a completely unencrypted web – after all they already claim to have total awareness of absolutely everything, even as in that extra-legal fashion so beloved of security agencies everywhere it’s clearly impossible to get bigger than total … – Cameron is surely suggesting something far more serious than he’s let on to as yet.

He won’t be looking to shut down corporate websites, for sure.  So a deal for them will be rapidly reached with respect to conceding them the right to use basic encryption methods.  The little outfits, however, where terrorism could conceivably hide in very small numbers, will swiftly be left out of the frame – and with exactly that excuse.  And then, of course, in this regimented and regulated CBNW (Cameron’s Brave New World), it will be up to each media org and online newspaper and magazine to come cap in hand to their respective governments, asking for the right to use secure methods of communication under the conditions such governments set out.

This is really serious.  Corporate commerce won’t be affected at all.  Rather, it’s our right to watch, investigate and interrogate the wrongdoers which will.

That’s what Cameron & Co are really going after.

A journalism utterly dependent on the state: not through licensing nor laws nor Parliament any more but instead – in a very 21st century sense – through the defining of what code it may or may not use to protect its integrity.

For the politicians and business leaders both, a freedom not of speech but – essentially – from any kind of rigorous, as well as independently public, examination and oversight.