Against Tech Solutions To Our Surveillance Problems

solutionsVia Wired, Jathan Sadowski writes that “tech hacks” to shield our own privacy shouldn’t be the answer we are looking for:

The notion of tech-centric solutionism: what tech hack, device, or app can I turn to for a quick fix to my privacy troubles? There’s no shortage of articles and how-to guides for securing privacy, with headlines promising “Five ways to stop the NSA from spying on you.”

Here’s the thing, though: We shouldn’t resolve ourselves to a life where cyber-hygiene and an obsession with technological solutions fools us into thinking we’ve somehow preserved our privacy.

It’s always going to be a losing battle when going against a panoptic titan whose methods are wide-reaching, constantly evolving, and classified. Just look at the fates of Lavabit and Silent Circle, the two email services that shuttered last week.

The fundamental belief in technology’s ability to “fix” everything ignores the fact that not everything needs to be fixed in the first place. And it gives birth to questions such as what if Trayvon Martin wore Google Glass? Sure, technology could help — but such questions (and answers!) miss the larger social and cultural context that needs to be addressed here.

In fact, taking the tech-centric route can lead to even more severe, unintended consequences. There’s a feedback loop between solutionist tendencies and the growth of a surveillance state: The rapid spread and use of technologies ironically laid the very foundation for it to engulf more and more aspects of our lives.

Except for the most cybersecurity-savvy among us, trying to outsmart and outrun the government’s data-hungry tendrils will only leave people ensnared. This is especially true when it comes to those who do not have the privilege — knowledge, ability, or wealth — to protect their privacy.

For many, the actions necessary to set up encryption or even abandon certain services are not feasible. Privacy should not become a luxury for an elite tech-savvy few; it matters far too much.

Preserving democratic freedoms and fighting the government’s spy-machine will mean focusing and turning concern into actionable change. It will require “coordinated dissent” from individuals, advocacy groups, and, yes, technology companies.

6 Comments on "Against Tech Solutions To Our Surveillance Problems"

  1. Virtually Yours | Aug 20, 2013 at 10:07 am |

    It’s coming down to surveillance vs. sousveillance. Yes, it would be nice/ideal to live in a world where neither concept is necessary, but we’re not there just yet. We need to drive a stake through the heart of the corportocracy beast and it’s worth asking: does sousveillance have the potential to be utilized as a temporary stepping stone toward regaining and maintaining that long-sought balance?

  2. The logic of your article post is unassailable, yet people will always fall for such parsing in the CorporateMedia.

    But THEY always use this false-front argument — the same argument posed every four years proclaiming that we MUST vote for either one of the two presidential candidates put forward by Wall Street — not the third party candidate who will most likely represent the people!

  3. DeepCough | Aug 20, 2013 at 7:37 pm |

    But this is the new arms race the U.S. has been looking for. Think of what it will do for the economy!

  4. It isn’t as if any rational person still believes the USA is a free country. Think about it. No-warrant wire taps, indefinite detention of citizens without charges, approval of rendition of prisoners and torture, stop and frisk without probable cause, search and seizure without a warrant, no-knock entry, confiscation and destruction of cameras that might have been used to film police acting illegally, police brutality, police shootings that go without investigation, managed news, and the civil-rights destroying “Patriot” Act.

    Acts of police behaving illegally, with shootings, Tasers, and unwarranted violence now appear almost daily. Rarely are these offenses punished. Most often “an investigation” is claimed, but soon forgotten.


In addition, the USA, with 5% of the world population, has 25% of all of the prisoners in the world. That means the USA has the most people in prison of any nation in history. Even by percentage of residents incarcerated, not just sheer numbers. USA is # 1!

 Does any of that sound like a free country?

    As Dwight D. Eisenhower said about communism, “It’s like slicing sausage. First they out off a small slice. That isn’t worth fighting over. Then they take another small slice that isn’t worth fighting over. Then another and another. Finally, all you have left is the string and that isn’t worth fighting over, either.

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