Who’s Afraid of the Surveillance State?

Natasha Lennard at VICE News asks “Who’s Afraid of the Surveillance State?” noting that reality is not as engaging as the dystopian movies.

the supposedly compelling story — that we are inescapably watched by a powerful corporate-government nexus — is, as a lived reality, kinda boring… Faced with a very real surveillance state, most of us have not cast ourselves as protagonists, or even minor characters, in the story of a struggle against it.

…As Ingrid Burrington wrote for Creative Time, the visual landscape of the surveillance state is comprised of “bland temples to the many demigods of an infinitely complicated cult.” The process of mass surveillance is dizzyingly complex, involving armies of contractors, secretive spy courts, and labyrinthine legal frameworks to justify the unjustifiable. But it’s dull to look at.

…Of course, the surveillance state does not reside entirely in intelligence office parks. It lives in the online networks and cell phone towers through which our every communication passes, it has purchase in the back doors written into the code of our email services, it lurks in our unencrypted messages. It is everywhere and nearly everywhere unseen — and therein lies the threat of insidious and totalized systems of governmental control.

Fighting against tyranny is actually kind of boring, difficult, and would require sacrificing conveniences like Facebook and Gmail, not to mention debit cards or simply searching for something online. So if we’re not willing to diligently resist tyrannical surveillance, perhaps we can get the government to resist itself.

Consider the failure of the USA Freedom Act’s passage in the Senate this week. The proposed NSA reform bill was anemic and too narrow to significantly rein in NSA surveillance powers, especially as it applies to the data of non-Americans. As Glenn Greenwald noted this week, the bill’s focus reflected “the lovely and quintessentially American theory that all that matters are the privacy rights of Americans” while “leaving completely unchanged the primary means of NSA mass surveillance.” I agree entirely with Greenwald that “the last place one should look to impose limits on the powers of the US government is… the US government.” He rightly points out that significant reform will not come through legislative efforts, but through widespread shifts in our individual online behavior and the use of tools that make the work of spies more difficult, ideally to the point where they’re simply not worth the effort. “Governments don’t walk around trying to figure out how to limit their own power,” Greenwald writes, “and that’s particularly true of empires.”

So what to do? Is privacy worth the sacrifice? Do any of you use Tor? Have any of you abandoned Gmail or other services in favor of your own email servers? Was it worth it?

CitizenFour Trailer: 

See also Encryption Works: How to Protect Your Privacy in the Age of NSA Surveillance

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