The Augmentationist about Surveillance and Sousveillance

augmentationist_logoIn this edition of the weekly Augmentationist I gathered some interesting links about questions of surveillance and sousveillance. You can read The Augmentationist here and subscribe at the right-hand side of this site.

The internet as a surveillance platform

The Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica published new revelations about the US and UK spy angencies: how they unlock encryption used to protect emails, banking and medical records. They work covertly with tech companies. The information is deeply disturbing. The Obama administrationresponded by saying the information is not news but provides a road map to the adversaries.

In other news: a federal court in Dallas, Texas has imposed a gag order on the jailed activist-journalist Barrett Brown and his legal team that prevents them from talking to the media about his prosecution in which he faces up to 100 years in prison for alleged offences relating to his work exposing online surveillance (the Guardian).

As much as I applaud efforts to combat terrorism, it seems to me that the tactics used to stop journalists and bloggers from investigating intelligence activities and practices are very worrying. We shouldn’t sacrifice democracy in the attempt to defend it against its real adversaries.

Please read Slavoj Zizek in the Guardian about Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, and especially his reference to Immanuel Kant and his distinction between “public” and “private” use of reason. Also worth reading: Hacktivists as Gadflies by philosopher Peter Ludlow in The New York Times, discussing hacktivism and Socrates.

Historical Reading

It’s almost uncanny, but this article about Crypto Rebels in Wired Magazine by Steven Levy was written in 1993: “It’s the FBIs, NSAs, and Equifaxes of the world versus a swelling movement of Cypherpunks , civil libertarians, and millionaire hackers. At stake: Whether privacy will exist in the 21st century.” Of course, nowadays we realize the real question is whether humanity can afford privacy now technological progress makes small groups capable to use doomsday weapons?

Stuff recommended by Howard Rheingold

Howard posted in our G+ HRU Alumni community about cooperation and morality: “A set of cultural norms may encourage and enforce cooperation within a group, but the world consists of many groups, different cultures, and the deep problem is precisely the one that Joshua Greene is pursuing.” ReadDeep Pragmatism, A conversation with Joshua D. Greene.

The other recommendation is about the “always-on lifestyle”. Howard: “I find many critiques of the always-on lifestyle to be shallow, but Rebecca Solnit’s is worth paying attention to. I’m assigning it to my Stanford students.” Read Diary in the London Review of Books.

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I'm a digital newsroom manager at Mediafin, the publisher of Belgium's leading business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. I have a special interest in the intersection of immersive media, business and philosophy.

2 thoughts on “The Augmentationist about Surveillance and Sousveillance”

  1. Roland-thanks as always for your yeoman work.
    I’ve been immersed in surveillance issues as well. This week the NYTimes publised an article about Acxiom, a big consumer data harvester, and their launch of a new site called which lets you see some the profile they have on you and what those in the market for passive consumer and demographic data can obtain. (Only in the US, as far as I know, as it seems keyed on one’s social security number.) Are they telling the whole story? Doubtful. Was there a level of granularity, particularly about personal finance in there that was frightening? Absolutely. Was some of it flat wrong? Of course. A strange trip.

  2. “Was some of it flat wrong? Of course”: that’s yet another worrying aspect and also why the argument “do nothing wrong so you have nothing to fear” is invalid: we simply don’t know which data are collected about individual citizens and what kind of stories could be constructed with those data – the data can even be correct, but the picture which is constructed using the data could be very wrong. But I can imagine all of a sudden security clearings are not granted or airport security checks become more intimidating – while the citizen has no clue what’s going on. It’s not only the danger of Big Brother, but even more the danger of ending up in a Kafka-scenario.

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