Monday, January 19, 2015
Seminar 1 Position Statement – Dr Lina Dencik, Cardiff University - Journalism/Media
Anti-surveillance resistance in a Snowden era
One of the key questions for me, for discussions on surveillance in a Snowden era is what anti-surveillance resistance does and should look like. In this debate, Steve Mann has highlighted different trajectories of resistance that include both sousveillance and counter-surveillance as mechanisms for highlighting and circumventing the architecture of contemporary forms of surveillance. Sousveillance makes use of technologies that form part of the broader ecology of ‘veillance’ but uses these technologies to monitor and observe powerful surveillance actors and infrastructures ‘from below’. The notion here is that, as a form of anti-surveillance resistance, such practice will shed light on the prevalence and abuse of surveillance by institutions of power to maintain social control. However, apart from questions regarding the inequality of power in the struggle over the direction and impact of the gaze, what the Snowden leaks have highlighted, is that these sousveillance technologies are themselves incorporated into an even broader form of surveillance, what Mann calls ‘gooveillance’ or ‘uberveillance’ in which all communications, from both above and below, is collected and monitored within a state-corporate regime of governance. In such circumstances, how appropriate is the practice of sousveillance as a form of resistance?
In the months following the Snowden leaks, we have instead seen a steady rise in interest in cryptography and the use of encryption tools as a form of anti-surveillance resistance. These practices might be considered practices of counter-surveillance where the aim of resistance lies in circumventing and bypassing surveillance infrastructures altogether, particularly with regards to online communication. Such forms of anti-surveillance resistance have become prominent and are increasingly part of debates on contemporary forms of control and counter-control. However, crucial questions remain regarding the remit and effectiveness of technological responses to surveillance. Even amongst cryptographers and hackers, there is an increasing awareness regarding the limitations of foregrounding technology in anti-surveillance resistance. Rather, such resistance needs to form part of a broader political movement that challenges the nature and extent of state and corporate powers in authoritarian and liberal democracies alike. Much of this movement has so far concerned itself with individual rights, and in particular, the right to privacy. This holds some promise for challenging surveillance powers outside the technological realm, but the problem with such discourse is that it lacks consideration for the ways in which there has been a fundamental shift in understandings and practices of privacy, not just politically, but in social and cultural terms, that means that many people do not connect with the terms of such debate. More broadly, however, framing anti-surveillance resistance around the issue of individual rights does little to illuminate the ways in which surveillance architectures form part of a set of power relations that advance certain interests over others. The challenge, therefore, may lie in integrating anti-surveillance resistance into broader ecologies of political activism that seek to highlight and challenge contemporary forms of exploitation and domination, making anti-surveillance resistance part of a broader social justice agenda.
Making such connections and building such broader movements is, of course, an enormous challenge, but it may be the most appropriate and relevant way of approaching anti-surveillance resistance in a Snowden era.