Yves here. Reader Mike M highly recommended what he called “one kick-ass anti-NSA/call to revolt article.” Even though my once-pretty-good French has eroded due to lack of use, from what I could read I agreed and asked for reader help with translation. I got many responses, including from some professional translators. Please thank Working Class Nero for the rendition below, which was a difficult project not merely by virtue of length of the original text (there were a couple of not-critical passages where neither he nor several native speakers could work out what the author was trying to say).
Aside from its merit as a stand-alone work, I also thought this article was noteworthy as an indicator of sentiment in France about the Snowden revelations.
What happened in 2013? A young man, 30 years old, brutally uprooted 6 billion ostriches, butts naked, and their heads firmly buried in the sand. To accomplish this, he employed a tool normally used to unearth tree stumps, a sort of pliers that gardeners call a USB key. The ostriches mechanically raised their heads, like springs – boing, boing — to gaze at the circuit plain that had been pointed out to them. Shuddering, they flapped their wings, giggled, and quickly plunged their heads into their plumage. All the while murmuring with a twitter, saying…
- So what?
- We knew that.
- There’s nothing new!
- Well anyway …
- Personally, I have nothing to hide …
Edward Snowden is a hero. A pale and sober hero, he is as charismatic as a washed-out geek, or as a student cramming for his math entrance exams. With a touch of madness though. And with remarkable courage that nothing in his face would have hinted at. A hero who has joined the lonely and sparse army of Bradley Manning, Aaron Swartz, and Julian Assange. A hero who one fine evening quietly pulled out of his company’s parking lot and decided once and for all he was ready to destroy the remaining fifty years of his life; that he was ready to start living in a mobile prison that he will carry around himself forever. All this so that other people in the world – you, me, us – could have a chance to live slightly freer than he ever will.
Once we only feared it: from now on we know it. By tapping into 250 undersea cables which relay our communications around the world, and by gaining backdoor access (most likely negotiated) to the major website’s servers and the world’s largest mobile telephone operators, the NSA can monitor and intercept almost all of our communications.
- Public and private?
- Encrypted and unencrypted?
- Our emails, our texting, our chats, our twits?
- The sites we surf, the videos we watch, how often, and for how long?
- Our phone calls too?
- Calls, date, time, person we spoke to, GPS position, yes; recorded voicemails, as required; images and videos, if necessary.
- This is done wholesale or are targets individually selected?
- Targeted by site, by email, by phone number, by IP but just as well data-mined by the trillions of metadata, which are stored in bulk, stored as much as possible. The only limit is technical, but these limits are technically surpassed each year.
If storage capacity, information processing, and the power for data analysis are setting limits, then of course the algorithms are refined and the result is that surveillance productivity heads upward towards double-digit growth. This multitasking surveillance is in any case infinitely more efficient, polymorphic, and extensive than the old manual and human method of spy thrillers from only 40 years ago. With XKeyscore software, NSA agents have a kind of Google for digital espionage. Searching is easy and adaptable, it requires neither a formal request nor a warrant, and it may also serve as an undetectable system to spy on employees.
Everyone. Everywhere. Everything. WWW = EEE. This is the equation in which we are the variable. Never before has population control been as powerful and widespread, never before as accurate and as technologically equipped. But why so little resistance? Why in the end the rather feeble collective and public reaction to the chilling Snowden revelations? Considering the scale, the wiretaps by Mitterrand or Watergate incited far more scandal. So what’s going on here?
At the highest level, it’s easy to understand. Multinationals and their boards of directors, governments and their police forces, the French, German, Swedish or Spanish intelligence agencies are all doing exactly the same thing as the NSA. Even better, they often work hand in hand! One of them sells us their brands of soup, another makes sure we eat it, and another makes sure we never get the idea to instead overturn the table. The reluctance of States to directly condemn the NSA is practically a sign of allegiance.
But what about the citizens point of view? The view from the streets? The anti-establishment organizations? Why this feeling of a modest indignation, a sluggish mobilization, a jaded indifference marked by the shugging of shoulders and the muttering of “well” and “yeah but” and “ya know, it’s nothing new”? Not new? Not new? All at once monitoring millions of innocent citizens, every day, everywhere in the world, with total impunity, and with such a refined use of target profiling?
First of all it’s clear that after 70 years without war in the West, we are no longer aware of the danger posed by the government’s file cabinets. The censuses, the raids, and the killing of communists, homosexuals, the mentally ill, gypsies and Jews would today be facilitated by a tool a thousand times more tragically effective and finely tuned than those available back in 1940. But very few people truly realize this because they did not live through the war. What are the Chinese or Korean dictatorships doing on this subject, the Russian crypto-dictatorship, the Israeli police state so prodigiously equipped to track any Arab dissent? We turn our heads away so as not to see. OK. There are two possible reactions (ignorance, detachment), but both undoubtedly miss the essential point of our acceptance of the worst.
Here I’d like to venture a hypothesis; actually a thesis. This thesis would be the following: the delicate web of surveillance on citizen-customers by those who govern us “vertically” (State powers as well as the liberal powers held by multinationals on the internet) is so amazingly tolerated because it is anchored, “horizontally” in the social practices of mutual checks that occur daily, are familiar, and have become natural. In other words, the NSA sprouts from a social soil that has made self control, control of others and control of the world through technology, proof of a bond, an ethos, a way of life. The stem grows from the rhizomes.
I control myself, you control me, we control ourselves, they control us. Surveillance, management and control become fractalized so that between the mother who sneaks onto the Facebook account of her daughter, the employer who scans the flaws of a job applicant on the web, the husband who reads his wife’s SMS messages and looks at her credit card bills, the retiree who monitors his vacation home with a webcam connected to a motion detector, and the NSA, all the way on top, which runs surveillance on Alcatel, Merkel, J. Schmoe, and Strauss-Kahn. Between all these there is one recurring theme, the same sordid twist, the same economy of desire focused on prevention, fear, and the total control over anything that can surprise, can divert, and can live.
“Écart” (gap) is the palindrome of “Tracé” (track) . And “Carte” (map) is its anagram, which unites them lest the gap escapes its track. Lest the prey breaks away from its shadow.
This morning, January 8, 2014, a Palestinian was killed by an Israeli drone, at distance, “cleanly”. Cameras are put in Teddy Bears to reassure parents. Babysitters and our empty houses are filmed. Our cell phones are triangulated, our travels are synchronized, our breathing space is restricted. We put tracking devices in our shoes, toll passes in our pockets because we are in flux, and microchips in the ears of our cats, our dogs and our sheep. The trees in Paris are barcoded. They can remotely hack into the braking system of a car, into a pacemaker in a beating heart. They can disrupt a GPS so that you get lost, activate the webcam on your computer, listen in around you with your smartphone. They manufacture the Xbox One which can constantly monitor your game room, can know which movies you watch, can know which games you play, can know how many people are on your couch, and can measure the volume and the light that enters. These features were quickly removed after facing an outcry that Microsoft never anticipated given that the logic of control has become so natural.
The truth is that we are being mithridatized. We are becoming dangerously acclimated to this subtle poison ingested daily, to this new form of an intimate grip of control and the extensive power that Deleuze diagnosed back in 1990 as our entry into the Societies of Control; and under this yoke we are being gently twisted. The truth is that this control is no longer simply placed and received. It is no longer simply imposed contemptuously, in the form of a pyramid of discipline, which falls upon us, the sad victims of the panoptic powers of the State, of Capital and of Mafias – inciting by its alienating grip strength, resistance, and revolts. No, it’s much better than that.
This desire to control, this impulse towards surveillance and frantic security now runs through each of every one of us. It takes shape and wires itself into our nerves. Everyone becomes the relay, the peddler, the exchanges are made with joy and fear. Everyone gets off on playing their roles as cops, all-powerful bosses, or low-life voyeurs. You control your house, your car, your purchases. He scans his wife’s emails, tracks his daughter with geolocation, and limits the duration of his son’s internet connection. She checks her pulse, controls her blood pressure, counts her calories, and her steps. You filter your calls, track down your ex on Facebook, Google the chick you met at the bar yesterday rather than letting her reveal as much as she wants you to know. And you are offered all the personal and idle tools for that; all the apps; all the flashy hardware for geeks with just a click of a mouse and a beep.
Completely intolerable in 1940, in 1970, the silky web of rapes by the NSA no longer shock anyone in 2014 because the NSA has basically become a little part of all of us. In the NSA we see just under the surface our own blurred reflection. It’s as if we gaze at our own likeness in a one-way mirror. When looking at the NSA we unconsciously recognize our own daily practices or worse, the small recurring desires for these practices. We practically identify ourselves with the NSA.
Just as much as (let’s repeat) the vertical stratum of surveillance and control that the NSA embodies, this government layer that so obediently, so seamlessly connects to the liberal-totalitarian stratum of Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Facebook, Orange and associates, the NSA profoundly takes its origin and support – where it finds resonance and agreement – in the horizontal stratum that is democratic and is emanating from our own desires for control.
This is no longer an extension of the field of the struggle it’s the indefinite extension of the field of control; towards us, towards others, towards the world. And the symmetrical acceptance of this control surrounds us, reframes us, and manages our existence in a secure flexible cage (a techno-cocoon) that protects us from any impulses for freedom.
Have you noticed this? Advertisements no longer sell anything in the name of freedom. But instead they market almost everything in the name of comfort and security. This is a major change in ethos.
On what grounds do they justify this surveillance anyway? The fight against terrorism? How many people died in Europe from terrorism in 2012? Seventeen!
The western terrorist is a cliché, a pure alibi, a scarecrow that kills fewer people than falling down stairs, than electrocution in the bath, or than choking on a chocolate croissant stuck in the trachea. And if they did represent a potential and objectifiable putative threat, it would be even simpler: the terrorists have already won. Because on their behalf, our lives have become digital cages, and at any attempt to take the slightest free step we bang into the barriers and burn ourselves.
Ok, OK, and now what? We sit and cry? We amuse ourselves? Cynically expound while snorting the snowpack? Or better, we wrap ourselves in the unscathed morality of a polished author (you’re surprised)?
Let’s do better than that. You become aware and you act. We resist, we evade, and we insist.
How? Let’s open a combat manual; here we go, directly downloaded from this page. A playlist of the struggles to lead. Give it a name: “Sister Resist vs. Big mother”? Hmm, already taken … “to the att-hack! “… Yeah …” The anti-control as contra-role “… uh … Well, forget the names. Here is the principle:
Tactic 1 (empathetic)> Encouraging whistleblowers. Often everything comes from them, everything is born from them. They are scientists, employees, any random nobody placed in a strategic location within the system who discovers the unacceptable. They are the one who become aware of it. And they are the ones who have the courage to reveal it to us all in order to stop it. Recall that a whistleblower is not a snitch or an informer. He exposes, with noble and ethical intentions, an actual threat against the public interest, against us, the citizens. The whistleblower takes enormous risks in the name of the cause he is going to defend. He discloses and endangers his reputation, his health, his family and his freedom. He will be attacked almost always with judicial proceedings — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) — whose real purpose is to intimidate, censor, and ruin a detractor. Edward Snowden is harassed by the Obama Administration.
It’s even worse than under Bush Jr. Snowden is considered a traitor to the nation. Snowden is exiled, monitored, blocked, threatened, and already condemned. It is essential to protect whistleblowers, legally, financially, and within the media sphere. Better, they should be encouraged as a calling, their emergence should be encouraged wherever the abuse of power festers and sporalates. And fiction, literary or film, has a role to play in the valorization and glorification of whistleblowers. This does not mean passing our need to be vigilant on to others, but instead to ensure that everyone has the desire to rise up to their level of vigilance (a little like the figure of the hacker was glamorized for good reason, as a feasible and effective resistance to techno-powers).
To better understand the problem of whistleblowers, you can snoop around here:
- American whistleblowers : targets of government power, on Wikileak Actu
- Whistleblowers: very weak legal protections, on Le Monde Politique
Tactic 2 (social)> Focusing collective resistance. “United we stand, divided we fall,” the motto is still irrefutable. Agencies and multinationals are welded by the common interests of a pact. We on the other hand are shot on site, one by one, although separated, we are all hit. Therefore let us unify the small as well as the bigmouths. In the real world first by direct action: occupying datacenters, sabotaging targeted servers, and enforcing electrical blackouts. Next by employing collective legal procedures against invasion of privacy; against use of personal data without consent; against the rape of the Constitution. Also by means of a European referendum on the protection of whistleblowers. By shaking (very forcefully) your Representative, who is supposed to be the guarantor of your liberties. By demonstrating and squatting at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Orange, and Alcatel. And by flashmobs, temporary autonomous zone, artistic direct action, attack ads, testimonies, documentaries from the inside, books, comic books, and texts.
Action on the same networks, and after, from wherever they track us. Let’s weave, plot, and regroup. Let’s exchange our stealth techniques, our encryption tools, our tactics of dodging and running, our “clean” search engine, our free sites, and let’s set-up some darknets.
Here you go, put this directly into the armory:
- http://www.laquadrature.net/ (probably the most serious association on the topic of protecting our Internet freedoms)
Tactic 3 (Heroic)> hacker. We predict it: the hacker remains the future of digital resistance. If they divide us on the networks, we emancipate ourselves (in part) by turning the blade back against our opponents. So we must attack, it’s up to those hackers who can, who master the tools, the code, and the arms. We must take the information from where they hide it, shut sites down; expose those who are aware and raise the conscience of those who meekly submit- by recovering files, addresses and phone numbers, the base schemes of data profiling, and individualized databases. Locate storage servers, erase confidential data improperly stored, point out the physical buildings where monitoring takes place. Expose officials who act with impunity. Force them to publicly take responsibility and pull them out of the shadows.
Tactical 4 (Single)> get stealthy. This is the simplest tactic, the most urgent for those of you who are reading these lines. It can happen right now, in the moments after you click on a few links. The first ongoing objective should be to minimize your digital wake. Do not leave useable traces. It’s a bit tricky of course. It means changing your personal web surfing habits. We start with:
- http://www.controle-tes-donnees.net/ (a nice general explanation of the issues and ways to protect yourself –read and apply the valuable section “To Regain Control by Myself”.)
- http://guide.boum.org/ (the digital self-defense guide – unfortunately its scope is limited for the moment to ways of securing data on your computer, not ready yet for online security.)
- Change your search engine >> https://duckduckgo.com considered the cleanest of the current search engines.
- Protecting messages >> There are no miracle as the ways to intercept and read your emails (meta data or content) are innumerable. The best way still seems to be to use GnuPG: http://www.controle-tes-donnees.net/outils/GnuPG.html. See a very good explanatory article from the Guardian on metadata collection: What is metadata NSA surveillance .
- Leave social networks that violate your privacy and exploit it as well: no more Facebook, Skype, etc. A good site for success in erasing yourself from all sites that track us: http://justdelete.me/fr.html,
- Make yourself as anonymous as possible: this is obviously the holy grail of recovering our freedoms. TOR (The Onion Router) is often cited, and is still vulnerable to attack (Bad Apple attacks), but it’s still better than doing nothing. Solution https://www.torproject.org.
Finally, to summarize I’ll list my pirate sources, the state of the art in online stealth boils down to this: “Encrypt everything. Email content (GPG), attachments (GPG), documents (TrueCrypt, GPG), videos (Jitsi) hard drives and USB keys (TrueCrypt, GPG, Apple FileVault, Linux LUKS …), RAM, IM conversations (OTR). Avoid DNS. Get away from profiling, Google, and Facebook & co. Change your IP as aften as you would your shirt. Be in several geographical locations simultaneously. Pay in bitcoin. Switch to single-user virtual machines.” Breathe!
Tactical 5 (mental and viral)> Change the way you see the Internet. The Internet is a fabulous tool for intellectual, artistic, and emotional liberation but an equally fabulous vehicle for self-alienation and isolation. Learn to think about your digital practices, your use of email, your impulses towards ease, comfort, control. Take a look at your actions and alert those close to you; understand all of our hands are dirty feeding the system, most often through laziness. Build a personal and local ethic with your friends, your clan, your relatives, to decontaminate yourself from the surveillance. It’s better to realize that we also have an active role in this surveillance and it’s better to quantify it, it’s better to understand when and where (at work, in love?) we act as its relay.
Living free is a right, not a luxury. A spiritual and physical right which however, is never to be taken for granted in a democracy because this right was won at the highest level, by our ancestors in their struggle against all those who wanted to divide them then and still want to divide us now. And we pervert this right and lead our lives depending on a technology that gives the authorities our succulent little intimate details on a silver platter. The law is never fixed; it is a movable barrier, a boundary that moves forward and backwards. It temporarily sets the current state of a power struggle between those who fight for freedom and those who employ the thousands of ways to restrict freedom in the name of sad passions (comfort, safety, submissiveness, procrastination). And finally, I would just like to describe in what form I would like the right to live free to continue to breathe:
Right for our intimate life to remain intimate. Because what we give to those we love, only keeps its beauty, its delicate freshness, within the secret of an intercourse unique and hidden from view. “Just for us.” I don’t want my love letters to be opened and read, not even by robots. I don’t want people to know whom I call, when, how often, and for how long. What is read, seen and known about us without out knowledge stains our lives. Incite the suspicion of being watched and what follows is the insidious normalization of behavior. Because a dismal self-censorship, barely conscious, inevitably will spoil our celebrations and our finest, most foolish acts, when we fear that a future employer will surf our wall because he has access to our codes, or when we know that visiting a revolutionary website such as a pirate blog, will automatically activate surveillance that puts our IP address on their black, red or gray lists.
We cannot calculate at what point reading our private exchanges, our emails, our chats, the histories of our phone calls, and web navigations becomes a very profound way of ransacking our souls – in a much deeper way than being filmed in the street or interrogated in a police station. On the web, surveillance is perfectly hidden and asymmetrical and no one really knows when we are actually being watched; exactly as in Bentham’s Panopticon as analyzed by Foucault. It’s this very uncertainty which creates anxiety and is psychologically very effective in terms of self-control.
Right to free content: a letter, a websurf, a text does not have to fatten databases and does not have to define profiles and tastes. This information should not have to produce added-value for targeted advertisements which will mobilize our available brain time towards selling us our own desires in an endless loop. I’ve had more than enough of feedbacks and back-ups!
Right to obscurity. Because obscurity is what allows us to be born again every day; to evolve, to reinvent ourselves differently. To escape the permanent link between our lives and the traces we leave, to actions done, to our habits taken. To resist being eternally referenced back to predict our future actions and desires and to freeze forever our attitudes based on what has already been recorded about us.
Right to freedom, quite simply. I was not born in a democracy to spend the 80 years of my life expectancy under constant stakeout from a totalitarian electronic eye that will decide algorithmically what can be taken and kept against me. I did not come into this world to spend 701,000 hours in custody. My lifespan.