From The Black Box Society, by Frank Pasquale, pg 52:
An unaccountable surveillance state may pose a greater threat to liberty than any particular terror threat. It is not a spectacular dangers, but rather an erosion of a range of freedoms. Most insidiously, the “watchers” have the power to classify those who dare to point this out as “enemies of the state,” themselves in need of scrutiny. That, to me, is the core harm of surveillance: that it freezes into place an inefficient (or worse) politico-economic regime by cowing its critics into silence. Mass surveillance may be doing less to deter destructive acts than it is slowly narrowing of the range of tolerable thought and behaviour.
Where might this lead? What I think of as ‘techno-fascism’ is a speculative answer. How bad could this get if left unchecked? What would life within such a social order look and feel like? Could we imagine a frozen social formation, one able to perpetually recreate itself without change or challenge?
An interesting set of distinctions from this great Frank Pasquale paper:
Beneath the surface of Internet policy disputes, there is a deeper, even ontological set of orientations to technology. On one side are advocates of “mastery,” who try to resurrect old legal principles and public values to order cyberspace. On the other are adepts of “attunement,” who caution the legal systematizers. When the “masters” propose a new constraint on the network, the “attuners” tend to parry with calls for humility. Law should adapt itself to the emergent order online, they say, should respect its inner music, its patterns of information exchange and hierarchy.
I’m particularly interested in the final proposition and how this manifests itself in emerging forms of digital social science: the invocation of “online order” naturalises digital capitalism, presenting it as an inexorable reality which is foundational to digital social science, rather than something which can become an object of interrogation and critique through digital social science.
This great lecture by Frank Pasquale (podcast) references this note, the text of which is the title to this post, sent to Martin Luther King by the FBI. As Pasquale notes, King was under constant surveillance that both facilitated and motivated this horrendous intervention. Can we imagine a data-driven generalisation of this condition and the possibility of comparable interventions being made by intelligence and security agencies seeking to repress dissent in an era of increasing social unrest? I certainly can.