Category Archives: surveillance

Looking at things through a new Prism

Are we all Muslims now? It used to be that some people justified the “special” treatment of Muslims (detaining them without trials, monitoring their activities, or proposing that they carry a special ID) because, you know, we Muslims are all potential terrorists. But if leaked information about Prism is correct, it seems as if the US government is treating every citizen of the world as a potential terrorist. If the sign of a true democracy is that even the rights of the criminal, the foreigner and the dissenter are respected, what does that say about a system that violates everyone’s rights because they could be potential threats to the system?

surveillanceWe should begin by trying to understand why something like Prism exists today. It is not because all other options to make this a safer world have failed. It is simply because certain kinds of information have become extremely inexpensive and profitable to collect. Intelligence agencies have borrowed algorithms and models from the corporate world–sometimes collaborating with them directly, in a perfect marriage of surveillance, fear and profit–and applied them at a global level, collecting and analyzing vast amounts of what they claim is “only” metadata (data about our actions, but supposedly not the actual content of our electronic interactions with others). The reasoning is that if person X turns out to be a troublemaker, records of his or her exchanges with others might prove useful. Fair enough. The problem is the notion that in order to be able to go back and examine those records, authorities need to collect all the records from every single individual, which for the first time in history is relatively cheap and easy to do.

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