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On data surveillance: If you're not paranoid, you're crazy


In The Atlantic, Walter Kirn goes on an expedition to find the physical sites where the digital surveillance we all undergo—through our phones, Google, Facebook, etc.—originates. The quest takes him to the NSA’s super-secret data center in Utah, and a gun show. Check out an excerpt below, or the full (and chilling) article here.

It awed me, the Utah Data Center at night. It awed me in an unfamiliar way—not with its size, which was hard to get a fix on, but with its overwhelming separateness. To think that virtually every human act, every utterance, transaction, and conversation that occurred out here—here in the world that seemed so vast and bustling, so magnificently complex—could one day be coded, compressed, and stuck in there, in a cluster of buildings no larger than a couple of shopping malls. Loss of privacy seemed like a tiny issue, suddenly, compared with the greater loss the place presaged: loss of existential stature…

The gun show was not about weaponry, primarily, but about autonomy—construed in this case as the right to stand one’s ground against an arrogant, intrusive new order whose instruments of suppression and control I’d seen for myself the night before. There seemed to be no rational response to the feelings of powerlessness stirred by the cybernetic panopticon; the choice was either to ignore it or go crazy, at least to some degree. With its coolly planar architecture, the data center projected a stern indifference to the qualms that its presence inevitably raised. It practically dared one to take up arms against it, a Goliath that roused the instinct to grab a slingshot. The assault rifles and grenade launchers (I handled one, I hope for the last time) for sale were props in a drama of imagined resistance in which individuals would rise up to defend themselves. The irony was that preparing for such a fight in the only way these people knew how—by plotting their countermoves and hoarding ammo—played into the very security concerns that the overlords use to justify their snooping. The would-be combatants in this epic conflict were more closely linked, perhaps, than they appreciated.

Image: The National Security Agency’s Utah Data Center, south of Salt Lake City. Via The Atlantic.


Great article. Indeed one feels powerless facing the reality of surveillance. I’m convinced though that educating ourselves in encryption, amongst other things, is something we all should do before throwing the towel.
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