Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Glenn Greenwald on the surveillance society. Please share everywhere.

Long live Glenn Greenwald.  His perspective, his background, is such a long way away from my own, but holy smokes, the man says important things well. 

Please, read this entire article (yes, it is long, and worth it), and share it as far and wide as humanly possible.  Lots of people need to see and confront what it contains, and for many of them, Greenwald will be a much better messenger than you or I--while delivering substantially the same message.

I'll indulge documenting two examples here.  Here's the first:

But I think that the more difficult value of privacy, the one that’s harder to think about, the one that’s more important than the one I just described. And that is that, it is in the private realm exclusively, where things like dissent and creativity, and challenges to orthodoxy, reside.

It’s only when you know that you can explore without external judgment, or when you can experiment without eyes being cast upon you, that the opportunity for creating new paths comes and there are all kinds of fascinating studies that  prove this to be the case. There are psychological studies where people have sat down at their dinner tables with their family members and friends talking for a long time in a very informal way. Then suddenly one of them pulls out a tape recorder and puts it on the table and says, “I’m going to tape-record this conversation just for my own interest. I promise I’m not going to tell anybody, I’m not going to show it to anybody, no one’s going to hear it, I’m just going to tape-record it because I like to go over all of the wisdom that you give me.”

And it’s an experiment to psychologically assess what the impact of that is. And invariably, what happens is, people who are now being recorded radically change their behavior. They speak in much more stilted sentences, they try and talk about much more high-minded topics, they are much stiffer in their expression of things because they now feel that they are being monitored. There was a pilot program in Los Angeles six or seven years ago that was in response to a couple of exaggerated news stories about rambunctious school children, elementary school children, on buses that were apparently being bullying and abusing other students.

The solution that they came up with was, they were going to install surveillance cameras in every single public school bus in Los Angeles county, which is the second or third largest county in the United States. The response, when it was ultimately disclosed, was well, this is going to be extraordinarily expensive! How can you have tens of thousands of working surveillance cameras with people monitoring them, recording them, every single day for every school bus in LA county? The answer that they gave was, Oh no, we’re not going to have working cameras in these buses, there may be a few buses that have working cameras, just so nobody knows which buses have those. We’re going to have faux cameras, because we know that if we put cameras up, even though they're not working, that will radically change the behavior of students.

In other words, we are training our young citizens to live in a culture where the expect they are always being watched. And we want them to be chilled, we want them to be deterred, we want them not to ever challenge orthodoxy or to explore limits where engaging creativity in any kind. This type of surveillance, by design, breeds conformism.  That’s its purpose. that’s what makes surveillance so pernicious.

How many people do you know who really need to confront that?  I know a boatload, myself, and I seriously doubt that I live among an exceptional population in that regard.

The next example I picked because a well-intentioned neophyte recently tried, amid a larger conversation about where the faith for Obamacare comes from, to hold up the 1960s civil rights laws as an example of how "working within the system" can get results.  I responded that "I would not want to try and defend the idea that we're any better off now, than then," and what I was thinking at the time was that it might be a pretty non-trivial challenge to try and convince American Muslims that ethnic or religious bigotry has been in any meaningful way "fixed" by any number of "Civil Rights Act"s.  Let's just say that Greenwald veritably nails it here:

I spend a lot of time with American Muslims and American Muslim communities doing the work that I do and where I go and speak, and one of the things that emboldens me and keeps me very energized and engaged about these issues is if you go and speak to communities of American Muslims is you find an incredibly pervasive climate of fear.

And the reason is that they know that they are always being watched. They know that they have FBI informants who are attempting to infiltrate their communities, they know that there are people next to them, their neighbors, fellow mosque-goers, who have been manipulated by the FBI to be informants. They know that they are being eavesdropped on when they speak on the telephone, they know that they are having their e-mails read when they speak or communicate to anybody. What they will say all the time is that it’s created this extreme suspicion within their own communities, within their own mosques to a point where they’re even afraid to talk to any new people about anything significant because they fear, quite rightly, that this is all being done as part of  a government effort to watch them.

It doesn’t really matter whether it’s true in a particular case or it isn’t true. This climate of fear creates limits around the behavior in which they’re willing to engage in very damaging ways.

But I think what this Surveillance State really does more than making people consciously aware of the limits in those two examples I just described: people not wanting to go to Occupy movements and people in Muslim communities being very guarded is, it makes people believe that they’re free even though they’ve been subtly convinced that there are things that they shouldn’t do that they might want to do.

Buh-zing.  He just said it better than I ever could.

And those really are just two small highlights.  The whole "article" is essentially gold, and worth the read.  (Extra points if you get as big an eyebrow raise at the context of its delivery as I did.  Now that is interesting.)

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