Posts Tagged ‘limits’

Someone’s Watching Over You: Faith & Surveillance

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Orwellian Birthday Party (clickable) Our conversation about surveillance starts by distinguishing safety from security-measures. Safety is the degree to which we are actually kept from harm. The resilience we find through Faith in God mitigates the harm we do to ourselves by anxiety and to each other in suspicion. The struggle to digest uncertainty, hurt, and worry is driving increased surveillance measures that threaten civil rights vital to a safe society.

We also need to separate tight security from secret, ubiquitous surveillance. The Transportation Security Administration perennially slows us at airports but TSA is part of our collective coping with the astronomically small, but real, possibility that a violent person would compromise our airplane. However extraneous or ludicrous, every security measure that happens in my sight is something I can consent to, not a violation to my right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure (Fourth Amendment). Yet when I found a note in my checked-baggage saying it had been searched “randomly” and that TSA was “not liable for any damages” to luggage locks, I felt differently. Whether such searches are legal or not, under current regulations, search without consent or warrant remains problematic, even contrary to the spirit of the United States constitution.

The National Security Agency [NSA] rarely impedes us on our way from point to point but they have collected data in virtual ubiquity and total anonymity for several years without consent and little transparency, using internet and phone records. Edward Snowden, a network administrator, was right to blow his whistle and flee to Hong Kong. These massive searches were thrown under the umbrella of ‘security’. After the story broke, an official offered some contrived number of ‘future terror plots’ foiled1; tautologies like these are unnerving. In addition to a case of ‘boiled frog’, we have an asbestos jacket: the unlikely threat of a fire (so-called terrorism) scares us into carcinogenic cloaks of surveillance. Now, government is acquiring the capacities for search and control that the nation’s founders foresaw as problematic. Loyalists called them traitors to the British Crown ~ one’s treason is another’s patriotism. Edward Snowden said via Britain’s The Guardian that, “[t]his country is worth dying for.”

Mainstream US journalism is more theatrical than illuminating and, doing what they do best,  Al-Jazeerah English is cannibalizing them. BBC is tepid but The Guardian has tiled an entire page with articles (“The NSA Files”). In this country, Snowden has been called “leaker” or, in blatant obfuscation, a “spy”. Time magazine’s recent cover erroneously characterized Edward Snowden (and Bradley Manning) as “hacktivist”. This is plainly inaccurate: he used legitimate pass-codes to access information – has Time’s staff been asleep for forty years, unaware of what computer hacking is? Media outlets always package their entertainment to suit audiences’ preconceptions but the overall climate of US media is so deficient in perspective that it, too, undermines safety to follow a ‘security’ narrative which began going astray decades ago.

But back to the fire: what about “terrorism”? Some caution is warranted but I think the NSA mega-data-glut makes us vulnerable to domestic (read “white”) extremism because processing too much information leads to heuristic profiling along dominant social narratives. Authorities invest more energy on immigrants and minorities, who learn to be distrustful of these structures, engendering self-fulfilling prophesy effects that create false leads; safety cannot be created from a climate of suspicion. Excess suspicion multiplies and entangles. Even if all of that is untrue, our security apparatus should never have the capacity to collect information on that scale. NSA is growing into a corrupt regime’s fondest fantasy. What we risk by less ‘security’ is far outweighed by what we are inviting by allowing surveillance on this scale, with or without transparency.

DC demonstration to limit NSA surveillance.

Though I might incur a label like “alarmist, I am far from a conspiracy theorist. The surveillance is happening. Though this administration, this congress, even NSA itself still fall just short of being malicious, the corruption comes from the surveillance itself, not in the people who institute it: these powers  are a recipe for dystopia. The abuses will happen, as predicted over two-hundred years ago. It would be a dereliction of my prophetic duty not to offer you the fruit of my experience. I saw a runaway security-state: I walked along a Berlin-eque wall with people who had scarves over their faces because if their photograph were taken they might disappear over-night into a prison where trials are optional – within the established laws, according to ‘secret’ evidence. Believing it would restore my confidence, I went to a demonstration near the Russell Senate office building. Barely twenty of us had arrived when a legion of police arrived to shoo us away. ‘No more than twenty’ could assemble, unless we went into the plaza –out of sight.

“They want to make us look small─” said one of the other protestors, irate, “move us into a large park, where there isn’t as much traffic—“. The officers were taking their orders through a two-way radio, causing us to wonder what powers dictated from the other side. As we were leaving, a police officer aimed a camera at my face…

1. This official may also have some high-quality, snake-oil-based dragon repellant to sell you all, too.

2. For reference, a loose group called “Anonymous” is hacktivist, going on campaigns of digital vigilantism via the internet by cracking the clearance-screens rather than passing through them.



JD (John Daniel) Gore is a young adult missionary working through the General Board of Global ministries. JD serves Methodist Federation for Social Action as the 'Associate for Movement Building' and worked previously in Bethlehem for The Wi'am Center. JD is a product of the Michigan State Wesley Foundation and of greater West Michigan. He aspires to work for a culture of acceptance and collective responsibility through better dialogue and creative projects.

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