Millennium Post

Thank you for snooping!

Whether Edward Snowden receives asylum in Bolivia, Venezuela or Nicaragua or not, whether he meets the same fate as the world’s whistleblower-in-chief, Julian Assange, stuck in a tiny embassy somewhere in Moscow, London or a remote South American city, or as Bradley Manning, incarcerated alone in a dingy dungeon, with possibility of being imprisoned for life – he has put the spotlight on a brand new phenomenon that is the quintessential hallmark of 21st century statecraft. Absolute surveillance and absolute erosion of civil liberties – the twin features, like two sides of the same coin, of the modern mode of global governance.

As the world enjoys a spy thriller more fascinating than one ever imagined in the history of sleuth fiction, as we watch spellbound how a lone hero (or anti-hero, suit yourself) eludes a state security apparatus, as revelations of omnipresent and omnipotent prying eyes snooping on our most intimate aspects of lifecome to fore, as waves of leaks, videos, claims, counterclaims, allegations, counter-allegations, threats and bravado jolt us out of our collective complacence, it is worth reflecting on what is really going on here.

Without a straw of doubt what we are witnessing is the rise and consolidation of a global security state, an Orwellian world raised to the power of infinity, a Foucauldian panopticon that sees, hears and smells everything that we see, hear, smell and taste in our lives. In fact, the success of the security state has been in quietly leading us on to become transparent ourselves, prodding us with the desire to share our lives, moment to moment, image by image, word by word, on the giant cobweb of corporate eavesdropping. They have friendly names of course. Facebook, Google, Apple, AOL – entities that are dearer and nearer to us than the lane next to our houses, than people live in the neighbourhood, than our room mates and flat mates, and sometimes even our family.
This new kind of totalitarianism thrives on our desire to be heard, to win affections and public nods, to win over new friends and retain the old ones, to dazzle the world with our brilliance, or simply to connect with others. In other words, the snooping apparatus makes a Big Brother out of ourselves when we go on a sharing spree on ‘social networking media.’

The global security state wants to know us, so that it can use that knowledge at a later date. The urge to completely possess us, scan us, analyse us doesn’t stop at emails, videos, chats, images; it spills over to the body – the DNA being the last stop of their supreme sovereignty over our minds and skin frames. The swabs, the smears, the pee and the dead cells that they extract from hospitals, clinics, laboratories, trial camps, blood donation camps, and even from garbage dumps, bolster their grip over the biological codes that make us, well, us. In that sense, we are being ‘identified’, calibrated, barcoded at every instance of our encounter with the state-corporate security nexus. This turns us all into potential criminals, for any so-called benign information, say a medical condition, or a sexual relationship with someone important or ‘dangerous’, can make us vulnerable to the arbitrary rules of the state that wants to punish us. The government, in league with the corporations, wants everything classified and known (only to them, of course), so as to uncover security threats (how they exponentially grow to match the thwarting endeavours of the state) or perhaps attract a new set of customers for yet another electronic product or clothing apparel chain.

The cartographic instinct, which had been at the root of European colonialism and imperialism in the first place, is now directed against us, the citizens themselves. The American state, in conjunction with supine European governments, and ones like the Indian state, is driven to render transparent every human being on this planet, so as to turn us from being politically participating citizens to economic drones doing our bit as loyal consumers of everything that is produced in the name of technological advancement. Hence, in their eyes, buying the latest tablet PC or the newest model of a automatic rifle, amount to not very different acts, although both merit enough future scrutiny in this relentless drive towards public transparency and governmental opacity. There lies the contradiction, as one could say, but in reality, that’s no contradiction at all. The more accessible we become, with our credit card numbers, PAN card numbers, Aadhar card numbers, happily available in various inaccessible databases of the security state, the more opaque the state makes itself, receding into a shroud of secrecy and classifying everything related to its own operations. The internet, once considered a potent tool of public emancipation, and it did prove to be so, has, however, been shown to be just another pawn in the hands of those who pull the strings. Sadly, the Silicon Valley, the great reservoir of the electronic revolution, which had, until now, prided itself in keeping the government at bay and caring two hoots about regulation, now forms an integral part of the surveillance mechanism that turns parts of us against other parts of ourselves, one eye pitted against the other in a bitter and endless fight to nowhere.

The cyber space had emerged at the turn of the century as a veritable space of revolution and evolution, of exploring creative ideas and intelligent dissent, of a march towards newness, unafraid and unspoiled. However, as Edward Snowden revelations point out, the cyberspace is now a warzone, and a scramble for power is eating into its deepest of recesses. Public sphere is shrinking, with predesigned corporate trends and cooked up political wrestling being passed off as public debate. To report the crimes and transgressions of the state is now the biggest crime, as a covert fascism rises from the ashes of a democracy that elected an African-American for president of the world’s most powerful state.     

The author is assistant editor at Millennium Post
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