Seeing and Being Seen

Russell C. Bogue in The Hedgehog Review: “On May 20, 2013, a pale, nervous American landed in Hong Kong and made his way to the Mira Hotel. Once there, he met with reporters from The Guardian and the Washington Post and turned over thousands of documents his high-level security clearance had enabled him to acquire while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency. Soon after this exchange, the world learned about PRISM, a top-secret NSA program that granted (court-ordered) direct access to Facebook, Apple, Google, and other US Internet giants, including users’ search histories, e-mails, file transfers, and live chats.1 Additionally, Verizon had been providing information to the NSA on an “ongoing, daily basis” about customers’ telephone calls, including location data and call duration (although not the content of conversations).2 Everyone, in short, was being monitored. Glenn Greenwald, one of the first journalists to meet with Edward Snowden, and one of his most vocal supporters, wrote later that “the NSA is collecting all forms of electronic communications between Americans…and thereby attempting by definition to destroy any remnants of privacy both in the US and globally.”3

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll, fully 91 percent of Americans believe they have lost control over their personal information.4 What is such a public to do? Anxious computer owners have taken to covering their devices’ built-in cameras with bits of tape.5Messaging services tout their end-to-end encryption.6 Researchers from Harvard Business School have started investigating the effectiveness of those creepy online ads that seem to know a little too much about your preferences.7

For some, this pushback has come far too late to be of any use. In a recent article in The Atlantic depressingly titled “Welcome to the Age of Privacy Nihilism,” Ian Bogost observes that we have already become unduly reliant on services that ask us to relinquish personal data in exchange for convenience. To reassert control over one’s privacy, one would have to abstain from credit card activity and use the Internet only sparingly. The worst part? We don’t get the simple pleasure of blaming this state of affairs on Big Government or the tech giants. Instead, our enemy is, as Bogost intones, “a hazy murk, a chilling, Lovecraftian murmur that can’t be seen, let alone touched, let alone vanquished.”8

The enemy may be a bit closer to home, however. While we fear being surveilled, recorded, and watched, especially when we are unaware, we also compulsively expose ourselves to others….(More)”.