A pit-stop to update the knowledge on the technological body
The outcry about spy system of electronic communications named PRISM – built by US National Security Agency involving worldwide citizens – rose indignation as well as a general brainstorming. Pressed by public opinion, politics outside US had occasion to show sad and disarming disbelief, a linear reaction with the historic delay that characterizes legislative power incapable to get a timely understanding of the most “hard” technological dynamics. However, ICT turbo-development and its fast concatenation with economic, political and cultural factors gives all us a lot of alibi for trudging.
Yet, as privileged people that can use a such sophisticated ICT systems, we should not accept naivety as excuse. (On the contrary, we could legitimately skip, without thinking, that sort of moral panic surrounding new media because outdated. So to speak, scholar John Durham Peters found out a deep connection between privacy and the fear of dissemination linking them to a kind of disorder of eros: massification of contacts, dangers of exchanges, confusion among inputs and outputs, miss of delivery, publicity …).
More prosaically, the PRISM case involves other dimensions: the functional shift of internet web toward application/walled garden containers and the implementations of centralized architectures (cloud computing & Big Data), with the creation of easily monitorable key points and formidable economics of scale.
“The ways in which we interact has drastically changed over the past decade. The majority of our communications are now delivered and stored by third-party services and cloud providers. E-mail, documents, phone calls, and chats all go through Internet companies such as Google, Facebook, Skype, or wireless carriers like Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint. And while distributed in nature, the physical infrastructure underlying the World Wide Web relies on key chokepoints which the government can, and is, monitoring. This makes surveillance much easier because the NSA only needs to establish relationships with a few critical companies to capture the majority of the market they want to observe with few legal restrictions. The NSA has the capability to observe hundreds of millions of people communicating using these services with relatively little effort and cost” (Technology Review, 2013).
While previously the control required an individual set-up for each person, now “hacking” actions “from the convenience of a desk at CIA headquarters in Langley” (a presidential directive, PPD20, permits “offensive” surveillance tools) can enquire and extract data from massive database to build in the month of March 2013 alone “over 97 billion pieces of intelligence information worldwide”. Now days, even the need to storage raw data vanishes and the costs are “ just a miniscule portion of the NSA’s approximately $10 billion annual budget”. To be precise, the 0, 35% of it.
If we have the patience to navigate in the calculations of the large amount of data that people daily produce through our digital activities – but perhaps even more passively! – we would be able to build ourselves a similar system with available technologies (of course, having the power to order to service providers to open the right back-doors):
Peters, J. D., 1999, Speaking into the air: A History of the Idea of Communication, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Technology, Not Law, Limits Mass Surveillance, Technology Review, 1/07/2013