MANY news outlets and bloggers have been excited to talk about the NSA surveillance leaks (and get web traffic). We are told that the NSA’s spying is for the purpose of protecting Americans from terrorist attacks, but people are wondering how this information might be used against them. And since corporations can buy this data-mining software, how does it affect “consumers?” Is it being used to blackmail senators and house representatives to force votes? Are people being criminalized unfairly? Should we all stop using the internet? We would be less connected, and less able to organize protests.
While this debate will continue, it’s important not to forget why this is happening. Why are valuable resources being organized in such a way to spy on people? The purpose could be to steal your ideas, beat you to the market, and know which demographic to market to. It could be to protect someoneX from someoneY” (insert groups or individuals). Creative people will invent new ways of using this technology to their advantage. As long as an advantage is to be had, and a human culture that reinforces taking that advantage, people will take it, and we should expect nothing less!
So, while we bite our fingers nervously imagining ways in which our private conversations could be used to exploit us, technology will continue to advance and become even more powerful. It may sound unrealistic now, but in a few years I could be typing an anti-Wal-Mart rant and a mosquito-sized drone (imprinted with their logo, no doubt) injects me with some neurotoxin. Or, I could be preparing for a presentation and suddenly, my data is corrupted.
As long as we perpetually concern ourselves with the details, we will not be able to correct our course. We will not be able to dig up the roots that bear this rotten fruit. Technological advancement is not something that can or needs to be stopped. There is just too much advantage to be gained, and too much curiosity in people to stifle. When we look back in our future’s mirror, the NSA scandal will seem almost charming in its scope and persecutory powers compared with what is to come.
It is worth mentioning that this data gathering does not have to be dangerous, given a different context. For example, you call your Grandma to wish her well on her trip. Three hours later, when she was supposed to have called and let you know she arrived, no call comes in. Thankfully, when her vehicle failed mechanically and rolled over off the side of the road, an emergency team was dispatched immediately by the car’s automatic SOS system and they got to her in time to save her life. Perhaps a design problem was uncovered once a product was being used in a real-life environment, and it was quickly and easily remedied.
The incentive for collecting information will depend on our cultural and economic circumstances. As long as we have a context of nation-against-nation, family-against-family, person-against-person, we will have these “corrupt” uses of this technology. It is time for a radical transformation in our awareness of what it means to build a sustainable culture. Nationalism, sexism, racism, and classism now create barriers to sustainable human life. If you are fine with jobs being outsourced to cheaper workers somewhere else, if you are fine with some people going hungry, and if you are fine with not being concerned about the “world’s problems” then you are not concerned with your problems because the world’s problems are not independent of your own problems. And if even you can’t be bothered with your own problems, then you should not be surprised at this world we’ve created. Spying, exploitation, degradation, and throwaway people are all part of this world we reify. If you carry a “less than” mentality in your mind and heart for other people, you will be paid in kind. If someone says they want women to earn as much as men, but then thinks immigrants should just “go home,” I know they are not serious about equality. It wasn’t long ego in western cultures that women were told to “just get back to the kitchen!” It is the same thinking, just different content.
Be serious about equality. Transform your perspective by educating yourself, and it will be understood that these divisions undermine your own quality of life. Spying will be rendered obsolete when there is no longer a motive for it to exist.