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Glenn Greenwald: How America's Surveillance State Breeds Conformity and Fear

Once the government is able to monitor everything we do and say, we will be unable to fight back.

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And the reason that’s being done isn't difficult to see. American policymakers know that the financial unraveling that took place in 2008 that’s even more visible in European states like Spain and Portugal and Greece, has never really been rectified, and it can’t be rectified because there are structural problems. The way in which oligarchs in  the United States monopolize wealth and then use that wealth to control our political processes, ensure that this is not going to change, it’s only going to worsen. Mass unemployment, mass foreclosure, all these income inequality pathologies are here to stay, and the future that America policymakers see is visible if you look at what happened in London for a weak period of time and what happens all the time in Athens, what is happening with increasing frequency in Spain: huge amounts of social unrest. And you see lots of that happening. I think that’s what the Occupy movement, in many ways, is.

And the elites in the United States, both corporate and government, are petrified about that type of unrest, and what people in power always do when they fear unrest, is they start consolidating power in order to constrain it, in order to suppress it.

And this is what the Surveillance State is designed to do.  It’s justified, in the name of terrorism, of course that’s the packaging in which it’s wrapped, that’s been used extremely, and in all sorts of ways, since 9/11 for domestic application. And that’s being, that’s happening even more. It’s happening in terms of the Occupy movement and the infiltration that federal officials were able to accomplish using Patriot Act authorities. It’s happened with pro-Palestinian activists in the United States and all other dissident groups that have themselves [dealt with] with surveillance and law enforcement used by what was originally the war on terror powers.

I just want to close by talking about why I think this matters. The attitude that you typically encounter, and it’s not a very easy mindset to address or to refute, is that, and one that the government has sold continuously and that privacy in the aspect I can understand as something to value, but ultimately, if I’m not really doing anything wrong, if I’m not one of the terrorists, if I’m not plotting to bomb a bridge, I don’t really have much reason to care, and people are invading my sphere of privacy and watching and learning what it is that I’m doing.

So I think it’s worth talking about the reasons why that is such an ill-advised way to think. Why it absolutely matters that privacy is being invaded in these systematic ways.  I mean, one obvious answer is that any kind of social movement needs to be able to organize in private, away from the targets of the organization. (applause)

If you look at the revolutionary movements in the Arab world, one of the greatest challenges that they had was that the government sought all sorts of ways to prevent them from communicating with one another, either at all, or in privacy. The fact that the Internet was not nearly as pervasive in those countries actually turned out to be a blessing because it enabled them to organize in more organic ways. But if the government is able to know what we speak about and know who we’re talking to, know what it is that we’re planning, it makes any kind of activism extremely difficult. Because secrecy and privacy are prerequisites to effective actions.

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.