In a previous life, I had a morbid fascination with the violence of nuclear weapons; nuclear threats, nuclear tests, nuclear deterrence and nuclear war planning. What will it take to bring disarmament? Why isn’t it happening given it is the democratic will of the vast majority of countries on earth and the vast majority of all populations polled about these suicidal, genocidal, econocidal and ecocidal weapons? And yet, they persist. And are used, suggested, hanging overhead, undersea; most international security conversations are nuclear power punctuated.
In another previous life, I focused my waking hours on the impact of war on women’s bodies and minds, women’s role in peace building and conflict prevention. How will we remove the barriers to women having a place at the peace table, in the DDR camp, in the society being rebuilt after the carnage stops? When will we understanding that carnage continues in the domestic sphere in traumatised societies? And what will happen next if the arms trade doesn’t stops fuelling the fires of militarised masculinity? All of that.
And now this new life focused on surveillance.
Maybe it’s not such a new life after all, given that surveillance in the modern era, like so many institutions, practices of international security relations was radioactively contaminated and has metastasised. The keeping of nuclear secrets and the stealing of nuclear secrets mapped the very edges of the molten hot and Cold Wars that gave birth to many of the intelligence habits we still have today, as well as a proliferation of technology, including the computer.
Madeline Ashby described the feeling of everything we say, do, think and choose being watched, “That feeling of being observed? It’s not a new facet of life in the twenty-first century. It’s what it feels like for a girl.” I likely don’t need to explain that merciless laser gaze upon the female form, but simply qualify that while objectification isn’t the same all over, how women look, appear and are seen is a defining feature of assigning gender roles differently throughout the world.
Like the threat of nuclear weapons and the collective experience of arbitrary gender role assignment, we collectively experience surveillance in some way – through targeted surveillance of the state, or the surveillance from data we provide to individual governments and companies in exchange for citizenship documents and customer service. And then there is the routine, default, indiscriminate theft of data and communications from satellites and fibre optic cable by the Five Eyes. That experience too, we share.
Everything that could be collected has been collected by the Five Eyes from satellites, from telexes, cables, phone calls, email, web searches, geo locational data. That doesn’t mean every person is being watched, or that the Five Eyes are omniscient – far from it – but that a technical capacity has been steadily built to enable extraordinarily deep penetration of any life should one of the eyes shift your way.
These are the practices of five shining lights of democracy, in the name of democracy, in such secrecy that democratically elected leaders have not known about them? The Five Eyes are so quietly powerful that they have been able to wait out most scandals in the past – and oh there has been scandals, exposes, whistleblowers and defectors, inquiries, Royal Commissions – that have lit up the sky like lightening, but only for a flash.
Edward Snowden’s candle is not going out so fast – drip drip drip comes the disclosures like wax as more frowning faces are lit up with Really? It’s taking a while to sink in, but Yes, Really. It’s taking a while to recognise that Cory Doctorow might be right in declaring peak indifference to surveillance as behind us – there will never be less people indifferent to surveillance than there was when Edward Snowden broke his silence.
In the ensuing examination of secrecy, technology and legal limits to surveillance, the coalitions and protests, the online communities that have formed, I have seen some references to the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, but far more to the NSA – the US National Security Agency – that dominates and leads the Five Eyes, but requires the facilities and agencies of the Five Eyes together to achieve what Edward Snowden is trying to explain to us about our world.
My thesis research is trying to draw those threads together and help the blame be more accurately distributed among the white western anglo nations, including my own country, Australia. We in the Five Eyes countries have an opportunity and a responsibility to paint a clearer target on the problems our governments have imposed on the world and the future of the Internet.