Over the years I have written quite a bit about government and corporate surveillance, and the ability of massive computing power to digest and process multitudes of data from that surveillance to produce individualized profiles of every single person on the planet — no matter how far off the grid you think you are. Here is an article from this month’s New Atlantis — All Activities Monitored by Jon Askonas — that tracks the history of, and warns of the implications of, the modern wave of surveillance and processing technologies.
He cites the US military’s “Gorgon State” operation in Iraq:
“Gorgon Stare and several other programs like it allowed American forces in Iraq to continuously surveil cities in their entirety, unblinkingly and without forgetting. After an IED attack, analysts could look back over the video to find the insurgents who had placed the bomb, and then further to find all of the places they had visited. Analysts could also cross-reference this data to other intelligence or surveillance, and build up lists of likely insurgent hideaways. Algorithms could trace individual cars or people over time, and even highlight suspicious driving activity for further investigation, like cars that did U-turns or followed other cars. Operators of the system could do this work in real time as well, coordinating with troops on the ground to pass on fresh intelligence or transmit the live images …
“Big data analytics, persistent surveillance, and massive increases in computing power enabled more sophisticated ways of … fusing intelligence from all kinds of sources. Social media, cell phone intercepts, captured documents, interrogations, and Gorgon Stare’s aerial surveillance could be used to build a nigh-inescapable net.”
Gorgon State was directly inspired by the 1998 movie Enemy Of The State, and its potential for use outside the military sphere was obvious.
“Programs like Gorgon Stare were, strikingly, inspired by a movie about government abuse of surveillance power. From the beginning, all involved understood exactly what they were trying to build, its power, and its potential for abuse. As a noted philosopher of science once warned: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should …
“Like so many other technologies created for war, this type of surveillance has come home, and early adopters have found many inventive uses.
Security companies have used it to protect events like NASCAR races — in one case, the surveillance system allowed a security team to quickly track back a hostile fan to his trailer to eject him from the event.
The Forest Service deploys wide-area surveillance to monitor potential forest fire zones.
And of course, a number of law enforcement agencies, ranging from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to local police departments, have experimented successfully, if controversially, with using the technology to fight crime …
Beginning in early 2016, … cameras were flying above crime-ridden Baltimore, with knowledge only of the police department — even the city government at first didn’t know about it…”
[I]nsurance companies will be, and in some cases already are, eager to use these systems to examine disaster areas and detect fraud, as aerial images can help them to compare claims against visible damage…
Other uses are still in the planning phase: Retail stores might want to track traffic around them to know where their customers come from and where they go; major utility companies might want to observe construction activities along underground pipelines.
These new abilities in the hands of the few have shifted
“the balance of power between citizen and state, between individual and corporation, and have eroded to the point of extinction what little remained of the natural rights of privacy, all around the world. For the masses, the feeling that technology develops along an inevitable path reflects their lack of agency — the fact that the crucial decisions about the technological conditions of society will be made by a largely self-regulating confraternity of elites. For engineers and scientists, technological development appears to be driven by a combination of what they can imagine, what is technically feasible, and what governments or markets demand.”
Well worth reading.