That’s Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement Act, Protection of Intellectual Property Act and Stop Online Piracy Act.
Since the advent of Google, Apple and facebook – and others, but especially those three – we’ve known that living our social lives online had a double edge. On one hand there is no better way to keep in touch with friends distributed over ever more diverse networks – in fact, no other way, facebook is the generator of a social dynamic all of its own. On the other hand, nothing is more traceable, trackable and indeed traced and tracked than online life.
The argument for the majority of fB users has always been: so what? I’m not doing anything wrong. Let them look. In this Al-Jazeera Faultlines programme, Thomas Drake, a “former National Security Agency” executive says the issue is not whether you’re doing anything wrong, but that some agency is collecting all of the data generated by your online activity…
Much of this data you won’t even think of as online. Switching your phone on or off is a tracked event, for example, as is going to the bank machine. But again so what? What can anyone do with such data?
Obviously, people like fB, Google and Apple, as well as the FBI, CIA, NSA, MI5, MI6 and the tech park firms that design the software they use (Qintel, Dettica etc) are not simply collecting the data and clogging servers in bunkers under the desert somewhere. They’re turning it this way and that and seeing what falls out.
In other words, what might be done with the data is already a function of the deep data mining and pattern recognition capabilities of software. In other words, just as mankind makes a new leap forwards in terms of interconnectivity of minds – the reaction to block SOPA et al was entirely netizen-generated – so that step exposes new levels of analysis (and therefore prediction) of our new behaviours.
It might be, for example, that you ran a fun-run in support of anti whaling, inviting others via fb and mobile phone. Your path into and out of that event would be easy to crawl – just as botnets crawl the internet – uncovering the network of friends and friends of friends and their interests. Perhaps nothing more comes out of this exercise than that 23.2% of people opposed to whaling buy farmed cod at Sainsbury’s or have viewed the same Eva Longoria clip on Youtube more than once.
Or it might be that statistically compelling connections between anti whaling and anti oil and anti Iraq, are revealed. Or that people who read Alan Moore comics (the image above is from his V for Vendetta) tend to oppose Senator Joe Lieberman and post querulous responses to Clint Eastwood’s backing of Mitt Romney. It might be that farmed cod eaters are marginally in favour of a Dark Knight Returns scenario for Tony Blair, ousting Joker David Cameron. Again, so what? What can they do? (What can who do?)
Isn’t knowledge power? Ultimately, the state can resort to outright violence against the people, as it has in Syria. In some cases perhaps the few could win over the many with use of weapons of mass destruction, for example. But this is surely a journey of no return – and must therefore have a similar game dynamics as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) nuclear strategy. MAD seems to obtain a sort of stability when it comes to external foes. But Syria reveals the hopelessness of MAD as a strategy when it comes to the “enemy within”. Notice how every single Arab Dictator tried to pin the Spring on external influences.
It’s not a new idea to think of the state as an organism, and organs such as MI5 or NSA as something like parts of an immune system. What is new is the emerging mathematics of game theory, which borrows from observations of biological cells under attack etc. I shan’t pretend to understand the mathematics – that is a seriously specialised language. (Interesting that it requires such a specialised language to express generalised statements.) But one key idea I am able to comprehend is that defensive strategies which resemble castles under siege are no longer viable. Why? The castle walls have long ago been breached.
In other words the enemy (to use standard game theory language) is within.
For the defending host, this is not as disastrous as it sounds. It is in fact easier to defend against an enemy inside one’s territory than one without, for the simple reason that – if measures are taken – they can be seen better. They can be understood. This is precisely what human antibodies do when they tag foreign bodies with protein markers, which are later picked up by phages (the cells in the bloodstream that consume harmful pathogens).
In fact, in the case of the game played between viruses like HIV, bird flu and dengue, the human cell must allow the attackers a certain amount of progress inside the cell, in order to learn about how they got in. Equally then, the attackers try to take advantage of this feigned surrender, perhaps with feigned attack.
Thus the state allows us to have facebook et al because it thereby learns about us en masse and in detail like never before. Indeed, the juxtaposition of dangerous memes from the political or spiritual spheres alongside more innocuous ones like pictures of what you had for dinner provides the defending host (the state) with truly organic information about our goings on.
Equally, it is thanks to cancerous invaders like Julian Assange, or the Anonymous hackers, perhaps even Al Jazeera, that the attackers (you and me) learn something about the defending and surrounding state.
It seems to me that while state and hackers may possess information – that Eva Longoria fans are Seven Seven skeptics or not or whatever the case may be – what to do with that information, thereby converting it into knowledge, hence power, is rather like a breaking wave. It might be that possessing the information about the game changes the game before it can be acted upon. Or it might be that possessing the information is a moot point unusable within the game itself – being therefore purely observational. In either case, it would seem that knowledge is not power. Rather that power is gently osmosing elsewhere. Whether that elsewhere is the hands of some New World Order, God, or intergalactic forces of Ascension would seem to be mostly a matter of nomenclature.
There is much more to say on this – watch this space. Meanwhile take it from me, Eva Longoria fans are deeply skeptical about Seven Seven.