You’ve heard about the surveillance state, but what about a surveillance society? One where it’s not just the government with an eye on you, but everyone else too. That security camera at the corner store, the red light cam at the intersection, the teens on the bus sending snaps, and even your friends uploading a night on the town to Facebook; each are a single neuron in a slowly growing brain getting smarter by the day. It’s not just that 1984 got it wrong, it’s that it lacked a large enough imagination. In the public sphere, this summer the FBI will introduce its Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometrics database, a massive overhaul of the previous fingerprint-only system which will collect “iris scans, palm prints, face-recognition-ready photos, and voice data” and make that data widely available to state and federal agencies. On the private side, Facebook is near to perfecting their own face-processing software using a deep learning AI which improves itself by feeding on bulk data. DeepFace is for now only a research project, all that effort spent just so they can make auto-tagging quicker, but the potential applications boil over from there. The data vacuum that looms over the online world is intruding on the physical with an appetite for the metadata of flesh, and adapting to it won’t be as easy as using a TOR client or proxy. The collection of real world bulk data is even spawning its own field of academia, Social Physics, which envisions a kind of real-time census of citizen data. The question left to be answered then is how can one opt-out, if only temporarily, from such a system. How can we fool machine eyes, eyes of algorithms and determinism, instead of human ones? The answer may lie in abandoning the old methods of concealment and adapting all new methods of confusion.
The Glossary of Surveillance has been updated after falling by the wayside for a few months. 27 new entries were added bringing it to a total of 60.
The information that continues to pour from the Snowden leaks, alongside the drama that is now ramping up on the Hill, has ensured that, even some 10 months later, this is an issue that won’t be so easily suffocated. The tide has risen to such a point where the idea of reform does not seem so alien anymore, and even the highest office in the land has maybe seen the writing on the wall. However, we can already see this is a box not so easily closed. Much of Obama’s proposed reforms stick to the bulk collection of domestic call data, which itself is only a small part of the vast surveillance infrastructure that reaches out from the American heartland. Take even a curious scroll through the Glossary posted here, pick an entry at random, and see where it takes you. While Americans may rest easy in hoping someday they may be shielded by a system of checks and balances against unwarranted surveillance, the rest of us living under this wide umbrella are not so lucky. The bulk collection of American phone data may fall, but the rest is definitely here to stay.
Compiled here is a quick primer on many of the most significant pieces of the surveillance revelations and debate. It should answer most questions on the specifics or at the very least give one a jumping off point in their own research. I will attempt to add onto and modify this as the changes come, so check back for future updates when/if new information rolls around. For now, you can check out ProPublica’s FAQ on the NSA’s Surveillance Programs. And also be sure to check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s timeline of NSA Domestic Spying, which reveals how persistent and common the issues we’re running into now really are.
Updated 2/11/2015: Added entries for EONBLUE,