Yes, we (s)can! (and not from today..)


Datagate: is PRISM a scandal? Maybe. Or maybe not. Because in the global economy realm violating privacy is the norm, not the exception.

One of the most widespread illnesses, intrinsic to the explosion of the global communication fluxes, is “recentism”. With this term, we define a process for the formation of knowledge lacking a long – term historical perspective or strongly influenced by a recent attention wave provoked by the media. The infection is viral and curiously it affects equally those who praise the web as an inherently democratic technology and those who don’t miss a chance to yell at the totalitarianism of “dataveillance”. A case of this syndrome that could be included in a manual is the current debate about the PRISM scandal, already renamed “datagate”. Let’s see why.

First of all the existence of the Echelon system (an invasive and global surveillance network, ancestor of the current one) has been known for at least 15 years. Its onset hails from the post – Second World War when the United States planned its development, assisted by Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

Secondly, it’s no news that Washington intercepts data fluxes coming from alien countries (allies or not) as well. One function of Echelon’s was precisely to snatch industrial secrets covered by copyright from unaware European industries.

Moreover, copartnership with private actors in national surveillance processes has been an accomplished fact for at least a decade. This truculent aspect of the governance is evident there where state institutions collapse. The political space once occupied by the Leviathan is now a battlefield for corporations that took on one of the major prerogatives of the state: the definition of the boundaries between private and public. And actually in the PRISM affair, besides denials with gritted teeth and secretive press releases, Silicon Valley is as guilty as sin. Nonetheless this is not the first time that it falls into temptation: Trapwire, Chinese Golden Shield branded by Cisco, Google’s collaborations with the Pentagon are just some of the many examples we could mention.

But mass electronic surveillance is such a global reality that it has already settled down in Italy too, in the ICT kingdom’s periphery. The Monti Government introduced it between January and March during a total legislative sleepiness through a decree about the definition of national policies in the cybersecurity realm, and which was compelling private operators and public providers to open the doors of their databases to intelligence services. Therefore, names, web – life and bank transactions of Italian citizens end up under the vigilant eye of the government, outside any judicial intervention.

Is it a polished repressive tool? Sure, but it also is a very flourishing business, able to guarantee broad economic profits. If we stay in our homeland we can include in the tactic interception sector (the one operated towards singles or small groups, that is) the examples of Hacking Team or Area SPA: the first has been trotted out more than once for having sold spywares to the Moroccan and Emirati governments, whilst the latter ended up under attack for providing an advanced system for monitoring on – line activities to Damascus. There is the case of the Italian inter – police network too, that belongs to Vitrociset[*] with a little participation by Finmeccanica, rented by now to the Italian state for many years; not to mention phone interceptions (legal or not) which security forces broadly use: even those entirely subcontracted to private enterprises. There is nothing to be surprised about: as Julian Assange remembers in the book “Internet is the enemy”, electronic surveillance is a far cheaper weapon commerce than the traditional one.

By pointing out all these aspects we do not want to minimise at all the implications that the PRISM affair will have in the next months and years. In fact at least two very relevant political evidences emerged. First of all, American citizens found out the fourth amendment of their Constitution to be like waste paper. Moreover (as already highlighted by Simone Pieranni on the Manifesto daily) the relations between United States and China seem destined to change: we could ask ourselves how Washington would have the audacity to lean on Beijing about cybersecurity – a theme on which the two superpowers were beginning to cast lukewarm signals of distension – or regarding its policies about population control.

Nonetheless, what we want to reaffirm is that privacy violation is not a capitalist system anomaly, but it rather is its structural and constitutive part. It is not a sometimes necessary evil, in order to fight the four knights of Infocalypse – paedophilia, terrorism, drugs and money laundering – but it rather is its cornerstone of rhetoric practices (conceived as creation of regimes of truth, legitimation of authority and ultimately exercise of power). On the contrary, the intrusion in our private lives is what guarantees to Silicon Valley its place in the sun. It is the cornerstone on which, since a long time, a process of reshaping of the entire web architecture in a securitary way was started. That is what makes a business such as Facebook possible, whose real customers are commercial advertisers, while users are targets, bull’s eyes to be put in the gun-sight and struck. It is the conditio sine qua non, the necessary prerequisite that establishes the realisation of such a system as PRISM.

Target, a term that not by chance belongs to both marketing sciences and war lexicon. And that nowadays, with PRISM, is enriched by one more meaning. It looks almost like they are remembering us that such a privacy violation – which is tearing down the fences that protect our intimacy – is a proper land invasion. Which implies a military occupation and the permanent suspension of a right: which is, in this case, the right to anonymity and privacy. Therefore PRISM is not a scandal, is not an exception. It is the norm.

Recentism can be healed: it takes only to start gulping down bitter red reality pills. This is the only way we can start to lay the foundations for a serious debate about electronic surveillance and to start to arm ourselves in time. Through cryptography, for sure, but even with a refusal that, as we have been taught by global movements during the last years, is often the spark that turns on the dawn for another kind of society. And maybe also for another kind of Internet.


Infofreeflow (@infofreeflow) for Infoaut

[*] A private ICT and logistics company, providing and maintaining military and police critical Italian infrastructure

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