Category Archives: Surveillance

New paper: “Collect it all”

I’ve posted the final manuscript draft of a new paper at SSRN: “Collect it all: National Security, Big data and Governance.”

Here’s the abstract.

This paper is a case study of complications of Big Data. The case study draws from the US intelligence community (IC), but the issues are applicable on a wide scale to Big Data. There are two ways Big Data are making a big impact: a reconceptualization of (geo)privacy, and “algorithmic security.” Geoprivacy is revealed as a geopolitical assemblage rather than something possessed and is part of emerging political economy of technology and neoliberal markets. Security has become increasingly algorithmic and biometric, enrolling Big Data to disambiguate the biopolitical subject. Geoweb and remote sensing technologies, companies, and knowledges are imbricated in this assemblage of algorithmic security. I conclude with three spaces of intervention; new critical histories of the geoweb that trace the relationship of geography and the state; a fuller political economy of the geoweb and its circulations of geographical knowledge; and legislative and encryption efforts that enable the geographic community to participate in public debate.

Keywords: Big Data, privacy, national security, geoweb, political economy

Surveillance costs–new study

Shortly after the Edward Snowden revelations began in June 2013 I wrote a Commentary for Society and Space open site on the costs of security.

One of the issues I addressed had to do with the economic and other costs of surveillance:

What does the US actually pay? One attempt at an answer to this surprisingly difficult question was recently provided by the National Priorities Project (NPP). Their estimate was that the US national security budget was $1.2 trillion a year.

A new report by the New America Foundation has further explored the costs of surveillance in terms of lost business opportunities to US companies, US foreign policy and cybersecurity:

  • Direct Economic Costs to U.S. Businesses: American companies have reported declining sales overseas and lost business opportunities, especially as foreign companies turn claims of products that can protect users from NSA spying into a competitive advantage. The cloud computing industry is particularly vulnerable and could lose billions of dollars in the next three to five years as a result of NSA surveillance.
  • Potential Costs to U.S. Businesses and to the Openness of the Internet from the Rise of Data Localization and Data Protection Proposals: New proposals from foreign governments looking to implement data localization requirements or much stronger data protection laws could compound economic losses in the long term. These proposals could also force changes to the architecture of the global network itself, threatening free expression and privacy if they are implemented.
  • Costs to U.S. Foreign Policy: Loss of credibility for the U.S. Internet Freedom agenda, as well as damage to broader bilateral and multilateral relations, threaten U.S. foreign policy interests. Revelations about the extent of NSA surveillance have already colored a number of critical interactions with nations such as Germany and Brazil in the past year.
  • Costs to Cybersecurity: The NSA has done serious damage to Internet security through its weakening of key encryption standards, insertion of surveillance backdoors into widely-used hardware and software products, stockpiling rather than responsibly disclosing information about software security vulnerabilities, and a variety of offensive hacking operations undermining the overall security of the global Internet.

These may end up being upper bounds of the costs (and consequences), but they are very helpful in identifying what is at stake here. I haven’t read the whole report yet, but the executive summary is here (pdf).

 

What is neoliberalism?

robinjames (@doctaj) on neoliberalism:

I want to hone in on one tiny aspect of neoliberalism’s epistemology. As Foucault explains in Birth of Biopolitics, “the essential epistemological transformation of these neoliberal analyses is their claim to change what constituted in fact the object, or domain of objects, the general field of reference of economic analysis” (222). This “field of reference” is whatever phenomena we observe to measure and model “the market.” Instead of analyzing the means of production, making them the object of economic analysis, neoliberalism analyzes the choices capitalists make: “it adopts the task of analyzing a form of human behavior and the internal rationality of this human behavior” (223; emphasis mine). (The important missing assumption here is that for neoliberals, we’re all capitalists, entrepreneurs of ourself, owners of the human capital that resides in our bodies, our social status, etc.) [3] Economic analysis, neoliberalism’s epistemontological foundation, is the attribution of a logos, a logic, a rationality to “free choice.”

I particularly like the way she enrolls Big Data and the algorithmic in her understanding of neoliberalism:

Just as a market can be modeled mathematically, according to various statistical and computational methods, everyone’s behavior can be modeled according to its “internal rationality.” This presumes, of course, that all (freely chosen) behavior, even the most superficially irrational behavior, has a deeper, inner logic. According to neoliberal epistemontology, all genuinely free human behavior “reacts to reality in a non-random way” and “responds systematically to modifications in the variables of the environment” (Foucault, sumarizing Becker, 269; emphasis mine).

This approach ties to what others have been saying for a number of years now on the algorithmic (I’m thinking of the work of Louise Amoore on data derivatives, among others) and the calculative (eg., Stuart Elden’s readings of Foucault and Heidegger). I’ve just completed a paper on Big Data and the intelligence community which tries to make some of these points, and Agnieszka Leszczynski and I have a cfp out for the Chicago meetings next year which we certainly hope will include these issues.

(Via this excellent piece on NewApps)

CFP: Spatial Big Data & Everyday Life (AAG 2015)

Call for Papers: Spatial Big Data & Everyday Life
American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting
21-25 April 2015
Chicago

Organizers:
Agnieszka Leszczynski, University of Birmingham
Jeremy Crampton, University of Kentucky
“What really matters about big data is what it does” (Executive Office of the President, 2014: 3).

Many disciplines, including the economic and social sciences and (digital) humanities, have taken up Big Data as an object and/or subject of research (see Kitchin 2014). As a significant proportion of Big Data productions are spatial in nature, they are of immediate interest to geographers (see Graham and Shelton 2013). However, engagements of Big Data in geography have to date been largely speculative and agenda-setting in scope. The recently released White House Big Data report encourages movement past deliberations over how to define the phenomenon towards identifying its material significance as Big Data are enrolled and deployed across myriad contexts – for example, how content analytics may open new possibilities for data-based discrimination. We convene this session to interrogate and unpack how Big Data figure in the spaces and practices of everyday life. In so doing, we are questioning not only what Big Data ‘do,’ but also how it is they realize particular kinds of effects and potentialities, and how the lived reality of Big Data is experienced (Crawford 2014).

We invite papers along methodological, empirical, and theoretical interventions that trace, reconceptualize, or address the everyday spatial materialities of Big Data. Specifically we are interested in how Big Data emerge within particular intersections of the surveillance, military, and industrial complexes; prefigure and produce particular kinds of spaces and subjects/subjectivities; are bound up in the regulation of both space and spatial practices (e.g., urban mobilities); underwrite intensifications of surveillance and engender new surveillance regimes; structure life opportunities as well as access to those opportunities; and/or change the conditions of/for embodiment. We intend for the range of topics and perspectives covered to be open. Other possible topics include:

• spatial Big Data & affective life
• embodied Big Data; wearable tech; quantified self
• algorithmic geographies, algorithmic subjects
• new ontologies & epistemologies of the subject
• spatial Big Data as surveillance
• Big Data and social (in)equality
• “ambient government” & spatial regulation
• spatial Big Data and urbanisms (mobilities; smart cities)
• political/knowledge economies of (spatial) Big Data

We welcome abstracts of no more than 250 words to be submitted to Agnieszka Leszczynski (a.leszczynski@bham.ac.uk) and Jeremy Crampton (jcrampton@uky.edu) by August 29th, 2014.
References:

Crawford K (2014) The Anxieties of Big Data. The New Inquiry. http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-anxieties-of-big-data/

Executive Office of the President (2014) Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values. The White House. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/big_data_privacy_report_may_1_2014.pdf

Graham M and Shelton T (2013) Guest editors, Dialogues in Human Geography 3 (Geography and the future of big data, big data and the future of geography).

Kitchin R (2014) Big Data, new epistemologies and paradigm shifts. Big Data and Society (1): In Press. DOI: 10.1177/2053951714528481. http://bds.sagepub.com/content/1/1/2053951714528481.

 

Contractor receives $400K federal funds for automatic license plate reading

According to reporting by Bloomsberg News the IRS, the Forest Service and the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command have awarded a contractor over $400,000 in contracts for its automated licence plate recognition (ALPR) system since 2009.

It’s not clear if the contracts to Vigilant Solutions are ongoing, given the context that Homeland Security dropped similar plans in February of this year following widespread opposition form civil liberties groups.

“Especially with the IRS, I don’t know why these agencies are getting access to this kind of information,” said Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based privacy-rights group. “These systems treat every single person in an area as if they’re under investigation for a crime — that is not the way our criminal justice system was set up or the way things work in a democratic society.”

Other countries (including the UK) have long had such systems in place.

If you go to the Vigilant website they have a long complaining blog post about the lies and distortions by civil liberties groups:

License plate readers are under siege nationwide, thanks to a well-funded, well-coordinated campaign launched by civil liberties groups seeking to take advantage of the growing national debate over surveillance. 

Unfortunately, the campaign led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has deliberately clouded and even omitted those facts.

According to this article, Vigilant actually successfully used the First Amendment to overturn an anti license-plate recognition law in Utah:

Vigilant Solutions and DRN [Digital Recognition Network] sued the state of Utah on constitutional grounds, arguing that the law infringed on the First Amendment right to take photographs of public images in public places, a right that everyone in Utah shares.

The law was overturned, but Vigilant com,plains that state agencies were then barred from using any of the data collected, impacting their profits. They also complain about data retention limits.

What’s also interesting about companies such as this is that they illustrate the argument for understanding policing and military together (see this blog post by Derek Gregory for example).

Society & Space piece on security

My piece “Is Security Sustainable?” has just appeared in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol 31(4).

If you’re outside the academic fire curtain or don’t want to read the whole thing my basic question is whether  the security we have now is sustainable in the long run, and at what cost. Rather than taking a “all security is good security” approach I ask what our current security surveillant state is costing us in terms of:

–Dollar amount (estimates go as high as $1T per year);
–Physical and mental health (of those charged with enabling security such as PTSD and amputations, but also health of those “living under drones”);
–Environmental costs.

I argue we are very far from knowing the answers to these costs, or even of identifying consensual ways to measure them. The piece is part of an ongoing project, but was occasioned by the Edward Snowden news. 

Thanks to EPD for being interested in this and getting it out in so timely a fashion! Update: As Stuart notes below it is available on open access now!

“Collect it all”

Glenn Greenwald this morning identifies what he calls the “crux” of the NSA surveillance revelations: the desire to “collect it all.”

What this means is that instead of targeting, surveilling, collecting or storing information on individual suspects for whom there is “probable cause” (evidence), everybody’s information is collected; guilty and innocent alike.

As a matter of fact I agree that this is a crux of the story, although for anybody interested in the study of surveillance this is hardly news. It is useful and important that this is now a matter of public debate, however.

For those interested, Foucault argues that this switch from “discipline and punish” individuals to mass surveillance is characteristic of modern states, and gives rise to their characterization as the “surveillant society”) (eg., John Pickles wrote about his as long ago as 1991, see also the work of David Lyon).

I discuss this in my 2003 piece on geosurveillance (Downloads tab):

Prior to the legal reforms of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Foucault argued the law focused on the nature of the crime committed, the evidence of guilt or innocence, and the system of penalties to be applied. In other words: crime and punishment. The person of the criminal was important only insofar as he or she was the individual to which the crime would be attributed.

Foucault argued that a second system of power emerged in the early eighteenth century that regulated, counted, and surveilled the mass of people as a population. Foucault called this “biopolitics of the population” (Foucault 1978, p. 139) or, more simply, “biopower.”

Given the recent NSA story I think it is easier to see the crucial insight of biopolitics here. One could say that this mass surveillance is necessary because we are all a kind of “pre-criminal” (in the eyes of the state every person has a criminal potential) to some degree or other. Therefore, as I argued (Downloads tab) in 2007:

First, we need to stop seeing the issue as one of security and surveillance versus privacy or rights. Arguing about this or that surveillance technique misses the point that, both historically and today, surveillance is a core component of the modern state; that is, surveillance and geosurveillance are characteristic of certain types of political rule based on a politics of fear (Foucault [1975] 1977; Lyon 1994; Graham and Wood 2003).