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5 Ways the Global Security State Can't Stop Itself from Abusing Our Privacy and Destroying People's Lives

We face a strangely contradictory future in which ever more draconian regimes of secrecy will confront urges for ever greater transparency.

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Washington’s urge to take control of the global communications environment, lock, stock, and chat room, to gather its “data” -- billions and billions of pieces of it -- and via inconceivably powerful computer systems, mine and arrange it, find patterns in it, and so turn the world into a secret set of connections, represents a remarkable development.  For the first time, a great power wants to know, up close and personal, not just what its own citizens are doing, but those of distant lands as well: who they are communicating with, and how, and why, and what they are buying, and where they are travelling, and who they are bumping into (online and over the phone).

Until recently, once you left the environs of science fiction, that was simply beyond imagining.  You could certainly find precursors for such a development in, for instance, the Cold War intelligence community’s urge to create a global satellite system that would bring every inch of the planet under a new kind of surveillance regime, that would map it thoroughly and identify what was being mapped down to the square inch, but nothing so globally up close and personal.

The next two urges are intertwined in such a way that they might be thought as a single category: your codes and theirs.

2. The Urge to Make You Transparent

The urge to possess you, or everything that can be known about you, has clearly taken possession of our global security state.  With this, it’s become increasingly apparent, go other disturbing trends.  Take something seemingly unrelated: the recent Supreme Court decision that allows the police to take a DNA swab from an arrestee (if the crime he or she is charged with is “serious”).  Theoretically, this is being done for “identification” purposes, but in fact it's already being put to other uses entirely, especially in the solving of separate crimes.

If you stop to think about it, this development, in turn, represents a remarkable new level of state intrusion on private life, on your self.  It means that, for the first time, in a sure-to-widen set of circumstances, the state increasingly has access not just -- as with NSA surveillance -- to your Internet codes and modes of communication, but to your most basic code of all, your DNA.  As Justice Antonin Scalia put it in his dissent in the case, “Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”  Can global DNA databases be far behind?

If your DNA becomes the possession of the state, then you are a transparent human being at the most basic level imaginable.  At every level, however, the pattern, the trend, the direction is the same (and it’s the same whether you’re talking about the government or giant corporations).  Increasingly, access to you, your codes, your communications, your purchases, your credit card transactions, your location, your travels, your exchanges with friends, your tastes, your likes and dislikes is what’s wanted -- for what’s called your “safety” in the case of government and your business in the case of corporations.

Both want access to everything that can be known about you, because who knows until later what may prove the crucial piece of information to uncover a terrorist network or lure in a new network of customers.  They want everything, at least, that can be run through a system of massive computers and sorted into patterns of various potentially useful kinds.  You are to be, in this sense, the transparent man or transparent woman.  Your acts, your life patterns, your rights, your codes are to be an open book to them -- and increasingly a closed book to you.  You are to be their secret and that “you” is an ever more global one.

 
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