How the Surveillance State Protects the Interests Of the Ultra-Rich
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
In the aftermath of the riots that rocked London this summer, the Conservative prime minister's first response was to call for a crackdown on social networking.
Despite data collected by the Guardian showing a strong correlation between poverty and rioting, the government denied that its brutal austerity policies contributed to the desperation and rage of its young people. A researcher found that the majority of rioters who have appeared in court come from poor neighborhoods, 41 percent of them from the poorest in the country—and 66 percent from neighborhoods that have gotten poorer between 2007 and 2010.
Of course, we don't have widespread rioting in the US yet. But even at a relatively calm, peaceful protest in San Francisco, Bay Area Rapid Transit shut down cell phone towers in the subway system in order to stymie a mass action planned after another shooting by a BART police officer. (It was the police killing of a young man that kicked off London's riots as well.)
The techniques that were roundly decried by Western leaders when used by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak against his people's peaceful revolution are suddenly embraced when it comes to unrest at home. Not only that, but techniques honed in the “war on terror” are now being turned on anti-austerity protesters, clamping down on discontent that was created in the first place by policies of the state.
Glenn Greenwald noted this connection in a recent piece, writing:
“The last year has seen an incredible amount of social upheaval, not just in the Arab world but increasingly in the West. The Guardian today documented the significant role which poverty and opportunity deprivation played in the British riots. Austerity misery -- coming soon to the U.S. -- has sparked serious upheavals in numerous Western nations. Even if one takes as pessimistic a view as possible of an apathetic, meek, complacent American populace, it's simply inevitable that some similar form of disorder is in the U.S.'s future as well. As but one example, just consider this extraordinary indicia of pervasive American discontent, from a Gallup finding yesterday.”
That Gallup finding was that only 11 percent of Americans are content with the way things are going in the country.
Greenwald's point, that the surveillance state is actually designed to protect the interests of the ruling class, is supported by Mike Konczal's point, in this July piece:
“From a series of legal codes favoring creditors, a two-tier justice system that ignore abuses in foreclosures and property law, a system of surveillance dedicated to maximum observation on spending, behavior and ultimate collection of those with debt and beyond, there’s been a wide refocusing of the mechanisms of our society towards the crucial obsession of oligarchs: wealth and income defense. Control over money itself is the last component of oligarchical income defense, and it needs to be as contested as much as we contest all the other mechanisms.”
Social networking sites are considered wonderful boons to commerce as long as they're collecting user data to be turned over to advertisers; but when Twitter or Facebook are used to coordinate protests or send warnings about police to fellow activists, they're suddenly dangers to civilization that must be stopped. And a young activist whose only crime was downloading journal articles from behind JSTOR's paywall to make them available to all faces 35 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines.
While corporations and banks collect data on all of us, they strongly oppose revealing any of their information to the public, even when they're quite happy to spend the public's money. As Bloomberg pointed out in a piece titled “Wall Street Aristocracy Got $1.2 Trillion in Fed's Secret Loans,” information is just now coming to light about how much money was lent to Bank of America and Citigroup by the Federal Reserve back in 2008.