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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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If the surveillance state has reached an industrial level of operations, and ever more secrets are being brought into computer systems, then vast troves of secrets exist to be revealed, already cached, organized, and ready for the plucking.  If the security state itself goes global, then the urge to leak will go global, too.

In fact, it already has.  It’s easy to forget that WikiLeaks was originally created not just for American secrets but any secrets.  Similarly, Manning uploaded his vast trove of secrets from Iraq, and Snowden, who had already traveled the world in the service of secrecy, leaked to an American columnist living in Brazil and writing for a British newspaper.  His flight to Hong Kong and dream of Icelandic citizenship could be considered another version of the globalizing impulse. 

Rest assured, they will not be the last.  An all-enveloping atmosphere of secrecy is not a natural state of being.  Just look at us individually.  We love to tell stories about each other.  Gossiping is one of the most basic of human activities.  Revealing what others don’t know is an essential urge.  The urge, that is, to open it all up is at least as powerful as the urge to shut it all down.

So in our age, considering the gigantism of the U.S. surveillance and intelligence apparatus and the secrets it holds, it’s a given that the leak, too, will become more gigantic, that leaked documents will multiply in droves, and that resistance to regimes of secrecy and the invasion of private life that goes with them will also become more global.  It’s hard from within the U.S. to imagine the shock in Pakistan, or Germany, or India, on discovering that your private life may now be the property of the U.S. government.  (Imagine for a second the reaction here if Snowden had revealed that the Pakistani or Iranian or Chinese government was gathering and storing vast quantities of private emails, texts, phone calls, and credit card transactions from American citizens.  The uproar would have been staggering.)

As a result of all this, we face a strangely contradictory future in which ever more draconian regimes of secrecy will confront the urge for ever greater transparency.  President Obama came into office promising a “sunshine” administration that would open the workings of the government to the American people.  He didn’t deliver, but Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, and other leakers have, and no matter how difficult the government makes it to leak or how hard it cracks down on leakers, the urge is almost as unstoppable as the urge not to be your government’s property.

You may have secrets, but you are not a secret -- and you know it.

 Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. He is the author of, most recently, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books, 2014).

 

 
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