“There are no private lives. This a most important aspect of modern life. One of the biggest transformations we have seen in our society is the diminution of the sphere of the private. We must reasonably now all regard the fact that there are no secrets and nothing is private. Everything is public.” ― Philip K. Dick
Nothing is private.
We teeter on the cusp of a cultural, technological and societal revolution the likes of which have never been seen before.
While the political Left and Right continue to make abortion the face of the debate over the right to privacy in America, the government and its corporate partners, aided by rapidly advancing technology, are reshaping the world into one in which there is no privacy at all.
Nothing that was once private is protected.
We have not even begun to register the fallout from the tsunami bearing down upon us in the form of AI (artificial intelligence) surveillance, and yet it is already re-orienting our world into one in which freedom is almost unrecognizable.
AI surveillance harnesses the power of artificial intelligence and widespread surveillance technology to do what the police state lacks the manpower and resources to do efficiently or effectively: be everywhere, watch everyone and everything, monitor, identify, catalogue, cross-check, cross-reference, and collude.
Everything that was once private is now up for grabs to the right buyer.
Governments and corporations alike have heedlessly adopted AI surveillance technologies without any care or concern for their long-term impact on the rights of the citizenry.
As a special report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace warns, “A growing number of states are deploying advanced AI surveillance tools to monitor, track, and surveil citizens to accomplish a range of policy objectives—some lawful, others that violate human rights, and many of which fall into a murky middle ground.”
Indeed, with every new AI surveillance technology that is adopted and deployed without any regard for privacy, Fourth Amendment rights and due process, the rights of the citizenry are being marginalized, undermined and eviscerated.
Cue the rise of digital authoritarianism.
Digital authoritarianism, as the Center for Strategic and International Studies cautions, involves the use of information technology to surveil, repress, and manipulate the populace, endangering human rights and civil liberties, and co-opting and corrupting the foundational principles of democratic and open societies, “including freedom of movement, the right to speak freely and express political dissent, and the right to personal privacy, online and off.”
The seeds of digital authoritarianism were planted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, with the passage of the USA Patriot Act. A massive 342-page wish list of expanded powers for the FBI and CIA, the Patriot Act justified broader domestic surveillance, the logic being that if government agents knew more about each American, they could distinguish the terrorists from law-abiding citizens.
It sounded the death knell for the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights, especially the Fourth Amendment, and normalized the government’s mass surveillance powers.
Writing for the New York Times, Jeffrey Rosen observed that “before Sept. 11, the idea that Americans would voluntarily agree to live their lives under the gaze of a network of biometric surveillance cameras, peering at them in government buildings, shopping malls, subways and stadiums, would have seemed unthinkable, a dystopian fantasy of a society that had surrendered privacy and anonymity.”
Who could have predicted that 50 years after George Orwell typed the final words to his dystopian novel 1984, “He loved Big Brother,” we would come to love Big Brother.
Yet that is exactly what has come to pass.
After 9/11, Rosen found that “people were happy to give up privacy without experiencing a corresponding increase in security. More concerned about feeling safe than actually being safe, they demanded the construction of vast technological architectures of surveillance even though the most empirical studies suggested that the proliferation of surveillance cameras had ‘no effect on violent crime’ or terrorism.”