I have a column in today’s International Business Times: Unchecked Surveillance Technology Is Leading Us Towards Totalitarianism, where I discuss this week’s NYPL event with Edward Snowden and how mass surveillance connects to the themes in my novel Walkaway.
In my science fiction novel Walkaway, I see an optimistic escape from the looming surveillance disaster. It imagines people oppressed by surveillance might “walk away” and found a parallel society where citizens’ technological know-how creates a world of fluid, improvisational technological play.
It’s a contrast to the kind of digital sociability we engage in today, which is designed to produce an exhaust stream of compromising personal information that can be used to manipulate you. Last week, a leaked memo revealed that Facebook created a presentation for finance-industry customers showing how they could target children who were anxious, depressed or frightened, to sell to them at vulnerable moments. You couldn’t ask for a neater demonstration of the power computers to make the worst parts of our lives even worse.
Surveillance always has rationalizations. States say they need it to catch internal enemies who plan acts of terror; law enforcement says it will let them allocate policing resources; corporations promise to use itto improve their services and, of course, to bring you tailored personal marketing messages from trusted partners, like those “retargeted” ads that follow users as they browse.
Companies and governments say we need not fear the surveillance they demand. Because you have nothing to hide. Because you’re getting safety in exchange for the erosion of your privacy. Besides, you already decided that being spied on was a good deal: you joined Facebook, you voted for politicians who expanded spying, you searched Google. The reason you’re in that giant, illegal FBI facial recognition database? You opted in. To opt out, just don’t have a face.