Evidence found in Egypt, Libya, and certain other countries, indicates that these regimes were using some of the software at issue, if not the highest levels obtainable nor the most sophisticated. According to the work of Privacy International, the Western democracies are the governments which seek the most and best surveillance equipment and software on the international market.
Anyone who paid close attention to the rapid lose of our civil rights since the 911 attack should remember an early DARPA project termed Total Information Awareness. The TIA program embodied an initial attempt by the US government to do openly what we discuss here it does surreptitiously. TIA was created in the Homeland Security Act in early 2003 to be managed by DARPA, but when details of its massive collection of information on innocent American citizens came to light, Congress was forced to kill the project officially in late 2003. The acronyms TIA and DARPA did not go well together in the American mind. The problem, however, was that while in existence TIA had already purchased the hardware and software for its mandate. The project was therefore merely shifted from DARPA to the NSA where it continued to grow and expand with the ever increasing sophistication of new surveillance software. (click here and Truthout has an ongoing article starting at click here)
For many, then, the news that our government is spying on us very closely may not come as a great revelation. We knew it from the Total Information Awareness program, from the Sibel Edmonds case, and almost instinctively. What is new is that instead of collecting terabytes of information and sifting that data for key words or information, the software exists now to keep track of each one of us. Now we are each a target, each located, each heard, each known intimately if they care to look, each subject to blackmail be there a single skeleton in our closet: perhaps a porn site once visited, a Marxist website once read, an intemperate email, a poem over lost love, so many things we have put on our computers. Even if we did not do it, they can do it for us, entering keystrokes when we are not even home, or not even using our Blackberry, turning us into pedophiles, terrorists, tax cheats, or whatever monster they need to disappear without much question or care from our family and friends.
One might reasonably question why governments of democracies would feel the need to keep such a close watch on their citizens. I am sure many different opinions abound. Most likely, though, the democratic state has learned through history that democratic peoples are quickest to rise up when their system fails them, so that the state, knowing that crises will come, prepares in advance as much as it can. It hardly took a fortune teller to predict the collapse of 2008, and the inevitable rise of both a reactionary right and a radical left. Anyone with a basic understanding of macro-economics, or political economy, and history, knew that another great depression was coming and that the state was preparing for it. Clinton knew it when he entered into NAFTA, just as Ross Perot had told us he would, and just as Ross Perot had predicted, we gained nothing but empty manufacturing sites. Bush knew it when he entered further trade agreements, and when he ran up unsustainable debt through two unfunded wars, the largest social program ever passed unfunded, and tax breaks that were also unfunded. The government had good reason to perfect its surveillance techniques knowing the likely outcome of all of these policies. The same policies led to WWI and WWII and the economic disorder that preceded them.
Knowing we are under surveillance, the most important questions arise when we consider the changing nature of surveillance technology in light of the Arab Spring and the OWS movements. A number of factors must now be considered. First, can the government effectively take over a mass movement by controlling the social media that serves as its medium? Second, can the government effectively shut down a mass movement dependent upon the social media as its primary medium for the exchange of information? Third, can the movement manipulate the government since the movement knows the government is listening in to its every electronic communication? Finally, how closely must we watch what we say and what we text or email considering that almost undoubtedly a record of our conservations is being kept for at least our entire lives?
As to the first question, can the government effectively take over a mass movement by controlling the social media that serves as its medium, the answer is probably no. Although the state may be able to change what an individual texts, no evidence exists the state holds the power to change thousands of individual text messages at once. Moreover, the social media is so broad, ranging from Facebook to Twitter to Linked In, etc., and so fast in its changing comments on live stream, that it is hard to imagine sufficient state power to sway the masses from the general direction of their discussions.
What we actually discuss here is whether the state can co-opt the direction of a popular uprising into the existing institutions which ultimately lead to maintenance of the status quo. An excellent example of this type of possible re-direction occurred on November 17, the second anniversary of the OWS movement, after it had been evicted from Zuccotti Park a few days earlier and planned a nationwide day of action for the 17th when the New York OWS planned to actually occupy Wall Street directly. This plan grew into a worldwide day of action with Americans taking the lead. A march of thousands descended upon Wall Street in the morning, encountering fairly stiff resistance from New York police. Then word suddenly came that the unions were under way to join the occupation of Wall Street, and victory seemed assured. The police guarding Zuccotti Park surprisingly then opened the barriers that had prevented the Occupy Movement from retaking their usual ground earlier, and abruptly from somewhere the call went out that Zuccotti Park was open and OWS could and should return there rather than complete their plan of day long protests directly in front of the villains that profit from inside knowledge of the Bulls and the Bears. In the Twitter information stream, people were desperately pleading for the movement to forget about Zuccotti Park and push forward, but somehow the voices heard were those demanding a retreat to the familiar park. Someone attempted to co-opted the OWS that day, but it probably was not the government and it was not the result of surveillance technologies. Somehow the day of occupying Wall Street ended in re-occupying Zuccotti Park, the path of least resistance, at least for a large segment of OWS. But there is a lesson in the events of that day.
Taking over a mass movement to change its direction takes more than the ability to cut into the information stream and occasionally mislead and misinform. It takes boots on the ground, the building of relationships, and an apparent commitment to the cause. However, building a mass movement where unrest already exists might be very possible with the new surveillance tools available to the western democracies. The state can identify the discontented, make sure they link up with one another, supply the ideological framework for revolution or rebellion, easily slip in informants or special operatives, supply the right world publicity for the rebel's cause, supply the arms for a violent rebellion, dehumanize the existing state, and even run military interference for the rebels. This is particularly easy to do for a government over its own people, as both President Bushes proved with their invasions of Iraq. click here It now appears possible, though, for an outside state actor to build such a movement within another society from its inception into maturity and onto victory as many believe occurred in Libya. This scenario represents one of the greatest dangers of the new surveillance technologies: invasion from within by a domestic, surrogate rebellion.