Big Brother Democracy? The dark side of new technologies

28Aug07

An interesting article by Naomi Klein (well-known author of No Logo, among other things) puts under a new light the relationship between civil liberties and democracy. “Think of surveillance as the new participatory democracy; of wiretapping as the political equivalent of Total Request Live.”
Learned the Seattle lesson, protesters were made invisible to the Big Leaders of the World in their Super-Summits, with the activists usually “herded into empty fields” far away from the action and the Leaders themselves. In addition to this common practice, now we have closed-circuit cameras broadcasting such protests directly in the Summit halls, 24/7, close captions included.
Writes Klein: “Yes, it’s true: Like contestants on a reality TV show, protesters at the SPP were invited to vent into video cameras, their rants to be beamed to protest-trons inside the summit enclave. It was security state as infotainment–Big Brother meets, well, Big Brother.” Very scary, indeed. We already have videocameras at crossroads and subways everywhere, secret and less secret survelliance activities conduceted by government agencies wordwide, and a bunch of high-tech tools (biometric IDs, facial-recognition software, networked databases of “suspects,” ubiquitous mobile and GPS devices, etc.). Now even street activism is being coopted and abruptly included in a new, ‘democratic’, technology scheme. The erosion of civil rights is nothing new in a post 9/11 world. But here the rubble of free speech is being taken away from ourselves and transformed in an on-going reality TV show. Something that the Big Brother can monitor and re-broadcast as and to whom he pleases. So they can say that they heard our voices, safeguarding our right to speak.
This seems one of technology’s darkest uses, a tool for a democracy of control – not for a participatory democracy. Quoting again Naomi Klein:
“Who needs clumsy old border checks when the authorities are making sure we are seen and heard at all times–in high definition, online and off-, on land and from the sky? Security is the new prosperity. Surveillance is the new democracy”.



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