Some Thoughts on Anti-Surveillance Activism

Anti-surveillance activism is different from other forms of activism because it can’t be quite as easily coopted by consumerism. Anti-racist, feminist, environmental, and other movements give themselves more easily to being corporatized. Made into stuff and things. They’re nice as a brand. If you hate capitalism, you know their transformative potential is always undermined unless they remain neatly within radical circles.

It’s very hard to profit from anti-surveillance measures and actions. There are lots of reasons for this, like the fact that it’s generally in the interest of firms to know as much as possible about their consumers. Big data relieves them of a lot of guesswork. Also, surveillance doesn’t hit quite the same emotional chord with people as do more earthy and immediate-seeming issues. In order to be aware of and concerned by surveillance, you have to live in your head a bit. You have to care deeply about unclear dangers and maintain a low-level awareness of phenomena that can’t be proven. You have to notice things that were designed to never be noticed. This isn’t a sexy cause to sell.

Nevertheless, the concern around a certain grows. In the internet-hipster circles I run in, it’s become fashionable to fetishize and indulge some gleeful geekiness in anti-encryption tools and protocols, such as those used in Keybase.io, Enigmail and Cryptocat. As important as I think it is to raise awareness about the surveillance state, this trend concerns me a little bit. In our enthusiasm we may risk losing sight of the fact that we shouldn’t need these tools to begin with. We shouldn’t have to use them. Let’s not get distracted by the tools we’re using to destroy the master’s house, no matter how shiny they are. It’s a big house we’re trying to break down.

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