Hack or be Hacked: The Quasi-Totalitarianism of Global Trusted Networks

Winter 2014 / Summer 2015

This article focuses on digital surveillance ideology by examining specific empirical examples drawn from media reports of the Snowden affair, in order to nuance the politics, ethics, values and affects mobilized by governments and corporate elites to justify the collect-it-all practices by a ménage à trois of “trusted” global networks. It charts this political space as a sphere of action emerging against the backdrop of what we call ‘quasi-totalitarian’ mechanisms, which are fostered by alignment, collusion and imbrication of the three trusted authoritative networks. This approach accounts for a particular vexing problem in the articulation of digital politics. That is, the process of political disenfranchisement by corporations looking to profit, governments looking to regulate information flows, and coopted groups in civil society looking to appropriate the legitimate concerns of users for their own political and financial subsistence. The distinct features of this quasi-totalitarianism include a. the monopoly of digital planning on surveillance resting on back-channel and secret communication between government, tech corporate elites and, sometimes, NGOs; b. the role of civil society NGOs as mechanisms for circumventing democratic processes c. enterprise association politics that ensures that the dual goal of state (security) and capital (profit) continues unabated and unaccounted; d. the unprecedented scope in the form of total structural data acquisition by western intelligence matrixes; e. the persecution and prosecution of journalists, whistle-blowers and transparency actors outside the scope of civil society groups and f. the significant if insufficient contestation by members of the public concerning the infringement on civil liberties.

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