Glenn Greenwald: How America's Surveillance State Breeds Conformity and Fear
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It freaked everybody out and they had to pretend like they weren’t going to go forward with it but what they did was incrementally, in a very clear way, recreated the Total Information Awareness Program under a whole variety of different legislative initiatives. And this idea that every single form of technological communication, by law, must be constructed to permit government backdoor interception and surveillance is an expression of what this Surveillance State mindset is: that there can be no such thing as any form of privacy from the U.S. government. That is the mindset that has led the Surveillance State to beam the sprawling, vast, ubiquitous and always expanding instrument that state and corporate power users employ in order to safeguard their power.
One other point worth making about how this works, about how the Surveillance State works and how powers exercise through it -- and this I think is probably the most pernicious part. I refer to this as the one-way mirror. The government’s one-way mirror.
At exactly the same time (this is really, so remarkable to me), at exactly the same time that the government has been massively expanding its ability to know everything that we’re doing it has simultaneously erected a wall of secrecy around it that prevents us from knowing anything that they’re doing. There is this amazing controversy when the documents from WikiLeaks were disclosed, and the American media had to rush to assure everybody simultaneously that this was all a completely meaningless act and a completely horrible act.
So, the two claims that were made was, this horrible, traitorous organization, WikiLeaks, has severely damaged American national security, but at the same time we want you to know, there’s nothing new in anything that they disclosed. There’s nothing worth knowing. That was literally the two claims that was named and nobody ever bothered to reconcile those.
But what was true is that, of the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pages that WikiLeaks disclosed, it’s actually an excess of a million now. The vast, vast bulk of it were very banal content. It was stuff that really wasn’t particularly interesting, that didn’t really reveal very much about anything that was worth knowing. And what was actually so scandalous about that was that very fact, because every single page that WikiLeaks disclosed was stamped “Classified” and they made it a crime to disclose any of it. Even though so much of it was banal and revealed nothing worth knowing. And what that reflected is that the U.S. government reflexively labels everything that it does of any conceivable significance as “classified” and “secret." It keeps everything that it does from us, at the very same time that it knows more and more about what we’re doing. If you think about [...] what a radical reversal [that is] of how things are supposed to work, it’s really startling.
The idea is supposed to be -- and this is just basic political science, basic design of the founding -- that there’s supposed to be transparency for government. We’re supposed to know virtually everything that they do. Individuals are supposed live in a sphere of privacy. Nobody’s supposed to know what we’re doing unless there’s a demonstrated, good reason to invade that wall of privacy.
We completely reversed that, so that the government now operates with complete secrecy, and we have none. The reason this is so disturbing is -- you can just look at the famous aphorism, typically attributed to Francis Bacon that “knowledge is power.” If I’m able to know everything about you, what you do, what you think, what you fear, where you go, what your aspirations are, the bad things that you do, the bad things you think about, and you know nothing about me? I have immense leverage over you in all kinds of ways. I can think about how to control you, I can blackmail you, I can figure out what your weaknesses are, I can manipulate you in all sorts of ways. That is the state of affairs that this Surveillance State, combined with the wall of secrecy, has brought about.