Alain Damasio on the NSA: “701,000 Hours in Custody”

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.

By Alain Damasio, science fiction writer and author of the La zone du dehors et de La horde du contrevent. Originally published in French at Playlist Society. Translated by Working Class Nero

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?
– Yes.
– Encrypted and unencrypted?
– Both.
– Our emails, our texting, our chats, our twits?
– Uh-huh.
– The sites we surf, the videos we watch, how often, and for how long?
– Yep.
– 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: (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: (a nice general explanation of the issues and ways to protect yourself –read and apply the valuable section “To Regain Control by Myself”.) (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 >> 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: 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:,
– 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

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.

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  1. middle seaman

    Couldn’t agree more. Yet, we knew it’s coming; we did nothing to prepare for it. We did nothing politically, socially, individually and analytically. If spying is possible, spying will take place. We went on. The onus is on those of us who have the tools and the time to prevent uncontrolled spying. Don’t ask the poor and the unemployed to do it.We chose to enjoy life on the beach.

    The NSA, known in DC as No Such Agency, is only part of the problem. Companies have been spying on us with our full knowledge for at least a decade. Did we scream? No!

    The fight for freedom is way behind because we couldn’t bother.

    1. reslez

      Who’s ‘we’? Virtually no one had any idea this spying was taking place. That’s the whole reason a whistleblower was needed and a huge media circus was created as a result. Few people realized it was technically possible, many still don’t believe it. Leftist media blowhards like Bill Maher mock Glen Greenwald to his face and characterize Snowden as insane. I’m afraid life on the beach is reserved for the filthy elite.

      If you had full knowledge ten years ago, then I agree you bear a tremendous moral burden for not speaking vocally about it. Everyone else can plead plausible ignorance. What happens next… really is up to all of us.

      1. fajensen

        Virtually no one had any idea this spying was taking place.
        I wrote a some parts of the software for it, sometime back in the 2000’s (Google for “lawful interception” there is a lot of information available and presentations too).

        The problem with worrying about what a person might do with this interface was, and perhaps still is, that this spying and surveillance was something that happened to “them”, not “us”, and “they deserved/asked for/provoked it” somehow.

        The mainstream debate and outrage about the Snowden scandal is that *everybody* is being bugged, the insult of lumping “us decent folks” into the same category as them “bad people”. The Americans notably left the mikes wide open on that one!

        Most people pass out from boredom immediately if told that in every piece of equipment that make up the core internet, including digital telephone switches, there is the option of recording everything a person does, with the right password. Too much techie stuff, this is boooring.

        People should use tools like PGP, GNUnet and Tor a lot more. Except most of these tools are still “niche”, they are poorly explained, hard to use, difficult to understand and none of your friends will be reading your encrypted messages anyway. The Silk Road actually did more for making Tor known to “normal people” than years of advocacy by well intentioned people managed to – by showing the utility of privacy to a large user base of party’ers and pot-heads in a way people could understand. Of Course there is a demand for the convenience of mail order dope rather than dealing directly with gangsters in the street!

        Everybody with functioning ears and eyes could have had an idea about the automated spying and (probably) automatic censorship too (which we certainly built for China!), it was public- and semi-public information, except the majority did not want to have it!

  2. Clive

    Working Class Nero — wow. That was one tough, tough assignment you took on there and the result is breathtaking. On so many different levels. Have some more comments to make once I’ve digested it all, but wanted to get my expression of appreciation out undiluted first.

  3. Daize

    I am the Mike M. in question who alerted Yves to the article. I actually work as a translator myself, and didn’t dare attempt the translation. So big congrats and a thank you for the effort Nero!

  4. Dan Kervick

    Meh. This article reinforces most of the negative attitudes I already have about the IT/techie/hacker community.

  5. Clive

    If I may misquote Norma Desmond, we’re still small, it’s the state’s security and surveillance apparatus which has got bigger. Not unlike her, we’re still sleepwalking along the giddy heights of a lost privacy and liberty.

    Reading Alain Damasio’s great combination of journalism and storytelling helped me to finally put in some missing pieces of a troubling situation which I’d played around with in my mind but couldn’t conclude until I’d seen the above piece.

    A little over a month ago a co-worker committed suicide. Rumour had it that he’d sent an email to the people who he blamed for causing his obviously intolerable situation. The company arranged counselling for those people who knew him — an act which faintly sickened me, they might as well have handed out Soma. I didn’t know the individual that well but I’d had cause to speak to him briefly about a work matter some weeks earlier. I remarked jokingly that an email, sent at nearly midnight, was going way beyond the call of duty. What he said back to me didn’t really make me think of anything in particular at the time, but after I learned of his death, it was haunting. His quip back to me was — I can’t remember the exact wording but it was along the lines of — “well, you have to show them that you’re working hard”.

    Who the “them” was wasn’t explained but it was pretty obviously managers, performance reviewers, people who’s influence mattered in terms of ensuring continued employment and salary. And the “hard work” was clearly to this individual churning out “stuff” in a measurable way — regardless of what that stuff was. I replied with words to the effect that I can’t be arsed with that sort of nonsense and the subject changed.

    We work (or, rather, he used to work) in an employment situation which I can best describe as a “surveillance workplace”. “Training” is a series of computer based courses with online tests, the passing or failing of which (or non-completion thereof) are reported to supervisors. The bureaucratic machinery we operate is increasingly a set of online forms which trigger automated monitoring of submission. The forms can often be filled with nonsense but the act of sending the form keeps you out of trouble. Daily, our inboxes fill with automated reminders, triggers in various workflow queues, warnings about impending elapsed response times outside of the target. Falling foul of these computerised overlords generates “compliance” warnings to management.

    I realised now that I survive quite happily in this oppression by mass monitoring using the responses detailed in Alain’s feature. I wish I’d been able to give these insights to my late co-worker, although I’ve a feeling he was too far gone by that point to be reached.

    Many people that I know blame the company for engaging in this war on workers waged via surveillance and automated monitoring. But I’m beginning to get the idea that the surveillance workplace is merely a natural extension of the surveillance society here.

    The only quibble I have is that the suggested remedies are all well and good, but to people trapped under the weight of debt and also the mental health issues caused by having to function in this environment, the level of courage required to take such steps may be beyond them

    1. Dan Kervick

      Perhaps then people should focus some attention on improving or changing the conditions of work?

      1. Clive

        Yes, I do think this. If we don’t tolerate abuse in the workplace from faceless automated oppression just because we’re paid to endure it, then we’ll be much less prone to shrugging our shoulders to it outside work where we’re not even compensated for the loss of our privacy and dignity.

        But I think that expecting people to quit when they are effectively bonded to the employer by a debt burden is a step too far for most. Hence the passive resistance suggested by Alain may be quite appealing to those who can’t see a way out.

        1. Dan Kervick

          The things you are complaining about have been part of the bureaucratic corporate workplace for a long time, in one form or other, and pre-date the internet and recent concerns about online privacy.

            1. Dan Kervick

              Bosses will always figure out some way to watch their employees and make sure they’re working hard. It was ever thus.

              1. fajensen

                Kyle Reese: Listen, and understand. That terminator Work Flow Management System is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

              2. EmilianoZ

                Sure, Sumerian bosses already spied on their lazy good-for-nothing employees. But the manner in which it is done matters. Waging war with nukilar weapons is not the same as waging war with slings and stones.

          1. Banger

            The bureaucracy is worse now than when I first knew it–less human and more “corporate” wherein procedure and conformity is the norm depending on the level of skill and personal political pull.

    2. fajensen

      The main reason that people are still not being mass-replaced by robots is simply that it is more cost-effective make robots out of people. Bureaucracy was tried and eventually failed miserable because it relied on people. The new, automated, bureaucracy has none of the scaling problems that killed Version 1.0.

      That is what the “surveillance workplace” does most effectively; turns thinking people into fleshy robots who “follow the rules”. The actual decision making process is driven by software and silicon, the robots are the effectors and the output terminals for the system. In some stores cameras and classifiers even measure in real time if your smile is genuine enough for the customer.

  6. Jill

    Working Class Nero, this was an amazing job and I am very grateful for your work. Mike M., thank you for finding this piece. Yves, thank you for making it possible for those of us who don’t read French to read this.

    I thought the author had many important insights, one of which is our (possible) acceptance of surveillance in everyday life. This is a real problem for creating opposition to government control. The value system of the overlords is held in common by the oppressed.

    There is a spiritual dimension to surveillance (and I say this as an atheist). I believe one reason people put so much information about themselves on facebook and other such places is the lack of value many people experience in our society. There is also training in celebrity worship. People are not valued in this society unless they have money, power or a special gift which is considered worthy by the social order. These terms leave most people unvalued. In order to feel valued, people try to become “celebrities”, charting everything they do on some kind of social media. If people were loved, valued and taught to love and value others in deep and meaningful ways; being a “celebrity” along with the mindless pursuit of wealth and power would hold no power.

    Therefore we do need a profound reevaluation of how we look at ourselves and other people. If we do this, we can lesson mind/spirit control by the powerful. It will help us unite. (Here I am responding only to a small piece of what the author said. It would take a very long time to respond to all the important points he makes.)

    1. east

      Absolutely agree. The problem is that the american/western youth is taught to hate each other, they are brainwashed since young that they must compete with each other instead of working for the common good. Bullying I never knew what it was until entering the western academic system. These children grow up to be what they were brainwashed to be. In other places with a more “primitive” life (in the western accept) people used the oppressor (security state) to unite against it; I don’t see this happening to the desunited people of the united states. Just saying it, as a citizen of the former eastern block.

  7. bh2

    There has never been a power invested in government which was not abused. The greater the power, the greater the abuse. QED

  8. Pearl

    I never personally worried too much about the spying–I always figured it was done at some level. (I also felt, as the boring housewife I am, that I personally had nothing to lose. Although many of my g-chats and emails and texts and such might create competition for sleep-aid drugs. Like the Ambien drug-manufacturer, TEVA, should see my (sheer boringness) as a threat. I mean, if you could bottle my boringness–they might have a true business/ competitive threat on their hands!)

    That being said, I would like to solicit the opinion of others on an incident that I experienced two weeks ago.

    My daughter, a 25 year old, grown, full-time and long-term employed, independent adult, was attending a several-day business meeting in a state in which she does not reside, but, due to its proximity to her father’s house, stayed at his house for the several days of the business trip to save money for the non-profit organization for which she works.

    My daughter is also enrolled in an executive MBA program, and her “MBA group” had decided to have a Google Hang Out session to meet their requirement for meeting as a group to work on a particular group project. For some reason, my daughter asked her father if she could use his computer for this purpose. (The background for his webcam probably captured a more professional look than where she sets her computer up on the floor of his guest room.) She received his permission to do so, and proceeded to participate in the (scheduled) Google Hang Out meeting with her MBA peers.)

    Apparently, my daughter neglected to sign out of the Google Hang Out. Because of this–and I still do not understand how–for the following MONTH–her father was able to and DID monitor her G-CHATS (not her emails or her texts or her Skypes or any other electronic communication) with her MBA colleagues, with her boyfriend of 5 years, and with me, her mother (his ex-wife of 20+ years.) All parties involved–particularly my daughter, her boyfriend and I felt extremely violated when this was discovered.

    And, because everything is always about HIM :-) ,and without the context or background or texture of said G-CHATS–her father deemed the month’s-worth of G-CHATS to be disloyal to him, and he provided (at least some of) the conversations to other family members, and my daughter has been, basically, “expelled” from their family via some extraordinarily soul-crushing and cruel emails from her aunts on that side of the family.

    I am not technologically savvy, but I know to keep things light and boring and non-work-related on G-Chat–knowing that her employer may be monitoring such communication. But my ex-husband monitoring them? Continuously for one month? From 2000 miles away, when I know she has not even been to that part of the country for over a month? It never occurred to me!

    In my G-Chats with my daughter, personal medical information, financial information, and the general silliness between a mom and her grown daughter were revealed to my ex-husband, and without the context of the past 25 years of my relationship with my daughter, my ex-husband deemed some of my comments as catty and undeserved. (IMAGINE an ex-spouse making a negative (though playful) remark about his/her ex-spouse! Unheard-of, right?)

    I guess my point is that when the issue of being monitored is hypothetical and impersonal, it wasn’t much on my radar. Now I feel very different about it.


    And here’s the soliciting of others’ opinion part of my post–is there something that my daughter’s boyfriend and/or I could or should do about this infringement upon our privacy?

    My daughter and her boyfriend will probably end up getting married–but they may not. So things said between two romantically-connected adults could be used to compromise such persons in future relationships, and the boyfriend does have a job that deals with sensitive information–(which he usually semi-encrypts w/initials and such), but he still feels compromised.

    Oh. And by the way–just to make the ex-husband appear even less sympathetic to readers of this website–my ex-spouse is a big muckity-muck executive at a humongous healthcare insurance company. So there.

    What (if anythig) could or should I do?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      He could get at all this stuff because she used Google. She logged into Google, and left the session open, so he could use that to get to her Gmail and other accounts.

      If you are going to be on the Web, you need to balkanize more. That way even if someone gets into one account, they don’t get everything.

      Abandon a smart phone and carry only a stupid phone. Best if you don’t use a tablet either. You should have at least 3 different email addresses, one for “business”, one for shopping (all those stupid sites want an email address for confirmation so they can spam you), one personal. The personal should be with an independent webhost (as not not Google, Yahoo, Verizon, etc). You’ll have to pay for that.

      That is the “lazy non technical person” approach. Way way short of ideal but better than nothing.

  9. Brooklin Bridge

    Nice translation! Thanks, WC Nero, and thanks to the author, Alain Demasio. Humans are curious and intrusive and bawdy. We all have a bigger dose of Chris Christie in us than we would like to admit mixed in with the heroic, the plain, and all manner of degrees and in betweens. And indeed it is certainly plausible that this “horizontal” acquiesce/embrace of our intrusive -it’s ok if I do it, just a little, to protect the kids, nothing to hide- side supports the sort of collective yawn that has surprised so many in terms of the public reaction to NSA revelations (though I’m beginning to think these revelations have had a bigger, more wide spread and more profound effect than was initially apparent). But there is another broad reaction as well. A lot of people are deeply worried, even anguished about what’s going on and they simply don’t want to hear any more of it. They are not complacent, nor even complicit except in a way that is beyond their control; but It’s killing them and they just want it to stop. They don’t want to hear about extinction, or biblical floods, or mass starvation, or cuddly presidents with funny names that are suddenly cynical ruthless despots. They don’t care about guilt by omission, they are experiencing overload and anxiety to the point they can’t cope.

    The solutions Demasio suggests seem extremely worth while yet rarefied. Are there really enough technically savy people to really make a difference other than to give the NSA and similar minded groups a little well needed practice and a foil to blame for manufactured and un-manufactured tragedies and events? I have to agree with him that these are all excellent things and those who have the time, the knowledge, and/or the desire should follow up, but it’s not this -or at least it’s not obvious- which will bring realization to a critical mass.

  10. docg

    With all due respect: I WANT my love letters read by robots.

    AND if and when I have anything subversive to say I definitely won’t say it anymore over the phone or in an email because hey who knows what big government entity might be eavesdropping. I’ll just come right out an say it on an Internet blog, because no one will ever think to look for it there.

    1. Jill

      There are many solipsists in this world! If you want your letter read by robots you can submit your letters and any other personal information directly to the govt. agency of your choice.

      Writing this on his internet blog takes courage. Of course Alain knows it will be read. Everyone who says they don’t care if their stuff is read apparently believes the govt’s actions are only relevant when they effect them-hence, solipsicism.

      The govt.’s actions are relevant because they are illegal, because they can be used in exactly the way Alaine describes, to round up dissidents who do care about the govt. engaging in illegal actions. Dismantling the rule of law, one part of which involves mass surveillance matters, not because you don’t care about your own privacy, but because it breaks down your own society. I ask people to care about the breakdown of our society. Other people matter. A good life for all matters. It isn’t just about you, it’s about everyone.

      1. docg

        If I were a government minion, eager to “round up dissidents,” I wouldn’t bother sifting through billions of emails and phone calls, I’d simply troll the “usual suspects,” i.e., the many Internet sites such as this one, where people feel free to “bravely” express their dissension openly and without the slightest inhibition. However, the fact that so many feel so “brave” is due to the fact that there are no such government minions and no one is either rounding up dissidents or thinking about rounding up dissidents. That’s pure paranoia. And the much touted “bravery” is pure bravado, as there is no danger of any repercussions whatsoever. Bill Maher hit the nail on the head when he accused Snowden of, every now and then, saying something totally nutso.

        And if at some future time we do find ourselves living in a police state, rest assured that any and all efforts to curb government surveillance taken in 2014 will be instantly reversed. A police state will not be curbed for one second by any action taken by Obama, the UN, or anyone else during the present era.

        So no, I see nothing brave in Damasio’s screed. What I do see is yet another effort to follow the herd into yet another byway of paranoid rhetoric over nothing. Regardless of all the shouting and rending of garments, surveillance will continue in one form or the other, as we know very well. It is part of the world we now live in and believe me there are worse worlds we could be living in. Lest we forget.

        Meanwhile, over at the AFL-CIO website they are trying to get our attention focused on the issues that really matter at the present time: jobs, incomes, worker’s rights, and the evils of gross inequality. Yawn! Who cares, when we have something really BIG to whine over.

        I’ll add that for me the real danger at the present time does not stem from our government’s efforts to protect us from terrorist attacks, but the rise of Ron Paul style libertarianism, to which, by the way, Snowden subscribes rather wholeheartedly, as reflected in his more off the wall comments. Damasio apparently concurs. The sort of libertarianism that constantly rails against “BIG GOVERNMENT” in favor of everyone’s right to act in his own “rational self interest,” is one step away from fascism. If you want something to worry about, worry about that.

        1. Banger

          Nice writing and good reasoning. However I disagree with you portrayal of the libertarian right, which includes a very diverse bunch not so easily pigeonholed. Most of them tend towards neo-feudalism not fascism–they are against the authoritarian state.

          I also disagree that we don’t live in a police state. We do live in such a state it’s just that the authorities are not ready to use all the tools at hand at this time since the population is passive and grumbles rather than acts. Right now, should something smelly hit the fan, everything is in place for Stalin to rear up out of his grave and take control. I don’t think that will happen any time soon so I don’t think about or worry about being watched–I know I am marked for the camps already.

          1. docg

            Thanks. If anyone is marked for the camps it would be me, I can assure you. If you have any doubts, check out my blog:

            As far as libertarianism is concerned, I think you are discounting the very powerful influence of Ayn Rand on so many libertarians and certainly Ron Paul. Sure, in theory they sound like anti-authoritarians, but the people behind the scenes, pulling their strings, are about as authoritarian as it’s possible to be. Chomsky has dubbed this movement, very simply: tyranny. Listen to what he has to say on the topic here:

            If anything in the political picture of today is going to lead us to the police state it is this brand of so-called “libertarianism.”

  11. linda/chicago

    I have an idea, let’s ALL read the blogs that will trigger the snoopers, EVERY DAY:
    Ali Abunimah’s blog (the title will trigger a filter, so I can’t give it)
    Al-Jazeera news
    and of course, Naked Capitalism!!
    If the people lead, the leaders will eventually be compelled to follow.

  12. Working Class Nero

    Thanks for all the kind words.

    I will admit I jumped into these translation waters without realizing how far away the opposite shore actually was — or how choppy the waters would be getting there. It was super intense but it felt really good to actually make it through.

  13. Dan Kervick

    Does no one see the irony in the hacker community – people who are specialists in violating the integrity and security of other people’s networks and data, seeking to make themselves into the protectors of internet privacy?

    And once again, we have their usual kneejerk response to every social problem: What can we hack? What can we disrupt? What can we break?

      1. Dan Kervick

        And do you think I should happy with the key in the hands of grandiose jerkoff vigilantes like “Anonymous”? Or with the people who write all those malicious viruses and malware scripts to infest the internet? Or with infants whose conception of social progress is to hack and break everything so that “the system” crumbles?

        I’d rather leave my town in the hands of drunken teenagers with baseball bats who live to smash mailboxes.

        The hacker kooks and the NSA spooks deserve each other.

        1. Susan Pizzo

          Aaron Swartz and Barnaby Jack were part of this brotherhood you so cavalierly dismiss. Richard Stallman, Jacob Appelbaum, and Julian Assange are current members, along with Edward Snowden. Just as economics has schools and factions, so too does the wide world of hackers. I think Greg Makiw is a menace to society, but I wouldn’t confuse him with, say, Joseph Stiglitz. In fact, I’d wager more of the system-breaking has been done by NSA types than the hacker community, which often takes things apart to make them better and stronger. The mainstream media portrayal of hackers is negative for the same reason the portrayal of heterodox economics is negative – there is potential there to rock the ruling class boat…

  14. Jerry

    The New World Order thru an article called Global Trends2030 Alternative Worlds published by the Atlantic Council think tank this nonstate actors (i.e. Snowden, Bradley, Anonomys) are a read danger to the way the Big Business and Governments who plan to direct the path…quote “A clearer understanding of the central units in the international system. Previous works detailed the gradual ascendance of nonstate actors, but we did not clarify how we saw the role of states versus nonstate actors. The reviewers suggested that we delve more into the dynamics of governance and explore the complicated relationships among a diverse set of actors.”
    From this I would guess that NSA is one of the agencies that is to make the New World Order for the predetermined path.

  15. Eureka Springs

    This is war. War waged upon us all. NSA is a war agency led by generals which sees everyone, EVERYONE, as an enemy. Like watching figures before they are vaporized by a drone on youtube…. we can run but we can’t hide. Even during your wedding.

    Nothing good can come of it. After all these months post Snowden they have not provided any substantive evidence of any good deeds. All while they have proved themselves over and over again to be serial liars of the worst order.

  16. Jackrabbit

    I thought the author’s description of surveillance/control as a type of poison was really interesting. As was the notion that we may be acclimated to it.

    But another important quality of this virtual/social toxin that is apparant is that it is highly addictive. And the more powerful the dose, the stronger the addition. As an institution, the NSA is more strongly affected than ordinary people. Like smokers who insist that they can quit at any time, they tell us that THEY control their addiction.

    In any case, spying creates a systemic risk that ordinary people are just not good at accessing. Traditionally, ordinary people can’t “wrap their heads around” such risk unless/until it is made clear by examples like people dying. Even then – just like with smoking – there is always a special interest that tells everyone that the danger is low or nonexistent.

    PS The best description of the risk/reward of spying is from Rep. Alan Grayson:

    “You could always make people safer by taking extreme measures,” he continued. “For instance, if we lowered the speed limit to 10 miles per hour, people would be safer. If we outlawed knives and forks, people would be safer. If we made everybody everybody fly on the airlines naked, people would be safer. None of those things corresponds to my sense of human dignity. I’m not the only one who feels that way.”

  17. H. Alexander Ivey

    I think the author has a good answer to the question; why aren’t more people up in arms about this spying? – NSA is a perversion of the natural way any society is built, that is, we limit or control ourselves by our internal review, our family’s review, our neighbour’s, etc. etc. up the ladder of organisation. Nothing wrong with that, that is how it is suppose to work. But, like the body’s reproducing each cell in every organ every seven years, if the process runs amok and the cells reproduce willy-nilly, you get cancer. In a society, you get spying and suppression, not review, coordination, and growth.

    So one call to action is to be clear what is “spying” on people vs what is verifying or trust building with people. Too much of the argument ignores this difference between people willfully exchanging personal information and spying.

  18. EmilianoZ

    Damasio’s thesis seems pretty weak. I dont think horizontal spying has anything to do with vertical spying. Horizontal spying is mainly about (sometimes unhealthy) curiosity, like trying to catch the latest gossips at the water-cooler or buying the latest tabloid to check if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are still an item. It has little to do with control (except in the case of parents on children spying).

    Why is there no general outrage. Let me quote a comment from Pearl that you can read above:

    I never personally worried too much about the spying–I always figured it was done at some level. (I also felt, as the boring housewife I am, that I personally had nothing to lose…

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