This week I’m trying to think positively about mass surveillance. It seems inevitable, after all.
“Iran’s Web Spying Aided By Western Technology,” read the front page of the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago. “European Gear Used in Vast Effort to Monitor Communications.”
Judging by the Intelligence Support Systems industry marketing brochures, Iran’s “monitoring center” is not exactly advanced compared with European state-of-the-art. Nokia-Siemens themselves said that they sold Iran a “restricted functionality” monitoring center. (Reports indicate that Iran also has “deep packet inspection” capabilties, presumably from another source.) According to Nokia-Siemens, over 60 countries have been sold a Monitoring Center. But their current “Intelligence Platform” solution is far more full-featured. Check out the Intelligence Platform brochure, which touts its “pattern recognition” and “behavioral analysis” capabilities. It “automatically detects formerly unknown patterns.” (Ah, dragnet.)
We can’t stop the unrelenting march of mass civilian communications monitoring, but perhaps we can turn lemons into lemonade. (Mmm, mass surveillance lemonade…what?)
From the Nokia-Siemens Intelligence Platform Brochure
Consider this technology’s potential for good. You could watch the spread of information through different routes the way doctors watch radioactive materials travel through the blood. You could measure how a population feels about a particular issue and get instantaneous feedback on policies with infinitesimal granularity. Better understanding of human psychiatry and communication could help us make better individual decisions and perhaps collectively govern ourselves more efficiently.
National communications surveillance is a very powerful tool for government right now (not to mention lucrative for phone companies, who are paid for the access). Also, given revelations about NSA wiretapping and FBI’s “Quantico Circuits,” it’s clear that the fundamental infrastructure is already in place (*ahem* NarusInsight).
Mass communications information would be very valuable for scientists– psychiatrists, anthropologists, etc. Unfortunately, today Internet, mobile and transaction surveillance data tends to go exclusively to the people who can pay for it or profit from it– ie. spooky government agencies with big budgets and advertisers. What if academic researchers had access to the same information that intelligence agents already comb every second?
Not that I really want to be under anybody’s microscope. But if anyone’s going to be analyzing my phone calls, payment transactions, emails and IMs, I’d rather it be researchers who will publish their findings, instead of secretive intelligence agencies. If our communications aren’t going to be private, let’s at least use these capabilities for clear, transparent public benefit.
Here’s an e-affirmative action proposal: For every intelligence agent that has access to mass surveillance data, one academic researcher should have access to the same information. And report on it.
At least then we’d know what the heck was going on.
|PGP-signed text: 2009-07-13 (current)|