by Thomas Knapp
Over the course of the last decade or so, “western democracies” have put Stalin’s Russia, Saddam’s Iraq, even Orwell’s fictional Oceania to shame when it comes to constant monitoring of people’s daily lives.
These days you can’t swing a cat without hitting a surveillance camera (unless it’s in the nose of one of those new-fangled drone aircraft that only a flying cat could reach), swipe your debit card or use your cell phone without at least having your location recorded in a database somewhere for later analysis … heck, can’t even transact significant business in cash without it being considered suspicious and worth looking into.
The surveillance state is here. You’re under the microscope, 24/7. Politicians and their friends in the global Military/Intelligence/Law Enforcement Industrial Complex just love watching you and everything you do, the better to control you.
The reverse? Not so much. If you don’t believe me, ask Julian Assange — under house arrest without charge for more than 500 days now on trumped-up sex crime allegations — or Bradley Manning, illegally detained for nearly two years (for the first 11 months in conditions described by UN Special Rapporteur Juan E. Mendez as “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and more aptly by Daniel Ellsberg as “no-touch torture”) and only just now given a date for his trial on charges of embarrassing Hillary Clinton … er, “aiding the enemy” … by allegedly (in cooperation with Assange’s Wikileaks) showing Americans what “their” government is up to.
I can’t help but think that anything the politicians and their cronies hate must have something going for it, and fallout from the increasing trend of “inverse surveillance” — a sub-category of sousveillance — seems to confirm my bias.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? — who watches the watchers? The answer increasingly comes down to “we do — all of us.” And the watchers hate, hate, hate it.
In the world of international politics, it’s getting harder and harder for governments to cover up their dirty tricks, atrocities and war crimes, or to convincingly manufacture such things and blame them on other regimes (note to US-funded Syria “activists”: JPEG or it didn’t happen).
At the level of domestic law enforcement, police departments are more and more often forced by victim- or bystander-recorded video to conduct expensive and distrust-inducing sham “investigations,” placing officers on vaca … er, “paid administrative leave” … while they’re “absolved of all wrongdoing” after they violently assault peaceful (though sometimes impudent) serfs.
And at every level in between those two, the state is exposed to the constant ridicule it deserves, just because we’re watching its agents and documenting their peccadilloes.
Yes, there’s a backlash, but it’s a positive feedback loop. Every time the victim of a police beating gets arrested for “wiretapping” the assault and putting it on display, the state looks a little more evil. Every time a Bradley Manning gets thrown in a hole or a Julian Assange gets called a rapist for broadbanding video of US troops murdering Reuters journalists or State Department cables exposing the Tunisian government’s corruption or the US Secretary of State’s order to her diplomatic minions to bug their foreign counterparts’ offices, the state looks a little more petulant and vengeful … and a lot less effectual.
And that’s a good thing! I look forward to the day when every encounter with a functionary of state — any state, anywhere — includes a video camera and an offer to make them famous. Turn on the light, and watch the roaches scurry away, lest they cease to be the stompers and become the stomped.