by Tom Burghardt
A truism perhaps, but before resorting to brute force and open repression to halt the "barbarians at the gates," that would be us,
the masters of declining empires (and the chattering classes who polish
their boots) regale us with tales of "democracy on the march," "hope"
and other banalities before the mailed fist comes crashing down.
it another way, as the late, great Situationist malcontent, Guy Debord
did decades ago in his relentless call for revolt, The Society of the Spectacle:
"The reigning economic system is a vicious circle of isolation.
Its technologies are based on isolation, and they contribute to that
same isolation. From automobiles to television, the goods that the
spectacular system chooses to produce
also serve it as weapons for constantly reinforcing the conditions that
engender ‚lonely crowds.‘ With ever-increasing concreteness the
spectacle recreates its own presuppositions."
And when those
"presuppositions" reproduce ever-more wretched clichés promulgated by
true believers or rank opportunists, take your pick, market
"democracy," the "freedom to choose" (the length of one’s chains), or
even quaint notions of national "sovereignty" (a sure fire way to get,
and keep, the masses at each others‘ throats!) we’re left with a fraud,
a gigantic swindle, a "postmodern" refinement of tried and true methods
that would do Orwell proud!
Ponder Debord’s rigorous theorem and
substitute "cell phone" and "GPS" for "automobile," and "Internet" for
"television" and you’re soon left with the nauseating sense that the
old "infobahn" isn’t all its cracked up to be. As a seamless means for
effecting control on the other hand, of our thoughts, our actions, even our whereabouts; well, that’s another story entirely!
In this light, a new report published by Cryptohippie, The Electronic Police State: 2010 National Rankings,
delivers the goods and rips away the veil from the smirking visage of
well-heeled corporate crooks and media apologists of America’s
burgeoning police state.
"When we produced our first Electronic
Police State report" Cryptohippie’s analysts write, "the top ten
nations were of two types:
1. Those that had the will to spy on every citizen, but lacked ability.
2. Those who had the ability, but were restrained in will.
But as they reveal in new national rankings,
"This is changing: The able have become willing and their traditional
restraints have failed." The key developments driving the global
panopticon forward are the following:
● The USA has negated their Constitution’s fourth
amendment in the name of protection and in the name of "wars" against
terror, drugs and cyber attacks.
● The UK is aggressively building
the world of 1984 in the name of stopping "anti-social" activities.
Their populace seems unable or unwilling to restrain the government.
● France and the EU have given themselves over to central bureaucratic control.
In France, the German newsmagazine Spiegel
reported that a new law passed by the lower house of Parliament in
February "conjures up the specter of Big Brother and the surveillance
Similar to legislation signed into law by German
president Horst Köhler last month, police and security forces in France
would be granted authority to surreptitiously install malware known as
a "Trojan horse" to spy on private computers. Remote access to a user’s
personal data would be made possible under a judge’s supervision.
French parliamentarians aligned with right-wing President Nicolas
Sarkozy insist the measure is intended to filter and block web sites
with criminal content or to halt allegedly "illegal" file sharing,
civil libertarians have denounced the legislation.
Béllier, a member of the European Parliament for the Green Party, said
that "when it comes to restrictions, this text is preparing us for
Additionally, the new law will include measures that will
further integrate police files and private data kept by banks and other
financial institutions. French securocrats cynically insist this is a
wholly innocent move to "maintain the level and quality of service
provided by domestic security forces," Interior Minister Brice
Hortefeux told Spiegel.
measures such as these that hinder free speech and expression, whilst
enhancing the surveillance capabilities of the state, also indicate
that so-called "Western democracies" are not far behind beacons of
freedom such as China, North Korea, Belarus and Russia when it comes to
repressive police measures. Indeed, Cryptohippie’s rankings place the
United States a mere 2/100ths of a point behind Russia when it comes to
Internet and other forms of electronic spying.
The top ten
scofflaws in 2010 are: 1. North Korea; 2. China; 3. Belarus; 4. Russia;
5. United States; 6. United Kingdom; 7. France; 8. Israel; 9. Singapore
and, 10. Germany.
A Profit-Driven Panopticon
In a capitalist "democracy" such as ours where the business of government is always
business and individual liberties be damned, grifting North American
and European telecommunications and security firms, with much
encouragement and great fanfare from their national security
establishments and a lap-dog media blaze the path for Western versions
of the sinister "Golden Shield."
Recently in the United States, whistleblowing web sites such as Cryptome and Slight Paranoia
have come under attack. Both sites have been hit by take down notices
under the onerous Digital Millennium Copyright Act for posting
documents and files that exposed the close, and very profitable
arrangements, made by giant telecommunications firms and ISPs with the
American secret state.
In Cryptome’s case, administrator John
Young had his site shuttered for a day when the giant software firm,
Microsoft, demanded that its so-called "lawful spying guide" be removed
by Young. All five files are currently back on-line as Zipped files at
Cryptome and make for a very enlightening read.
harassment didn’t stop there. When Young published PayPal’s "lawful
spying guide," the firm froze Cryptome’s account, in all likelihood at
the behest of America’s spy agencies, allegedly for "illegal
activities," i.e., offering Cryptome’s entire archive for sale on two
Why would the secret state’s corporate partners target
Young? Perhaps because since 1996, "Cryptome welcomes documents for
publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular
material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use
technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret
governance–open, secret and classified documents–but not limited to
those. Documents are removed from this site only by order served
directly by a US court having jurisdiction. No court order has ever
been served; any order served will be published here–or elsewhere if
gagged by order. Bluffs will be published if comical but otherwise
In previous reports, Cryptohippie characterized an electronic police state thusly:
1. It is criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial.
2. It is gathered universally ("preventively") and only later organized for use in prosecutions.
Silent and seamless, our political minders have
every intention of deploying such formidable technological resources as
a preeminent–and preemptive–means for effecting social control.
Indeed, what has been characterized by corporate and media elites as an
"acceptable," i.e. managed political discourse, respect neither
national boundaries, the laws and customs of nations, nor a
population’s right to abolish institutions, indeed entire social
systems when the governed are reduced to the level of a pauperized herd
ripe for plunder.
How then, does this repressive metasystem
work? What are the essential characteristics that differentiate an
Electronic Police State from previous forms of oppressive governance?
"In an Electronic Police State, every
surveillance camera recording, every email sent, every Internet site
surfed, every post made, every check written, every credit card swipe,
every cell phone ping… are all criminal evidence, and all are held in
searchable databases. The individual can be prosecuted whenever the
"Long term" Cryptohippie writes, the secret
state (definitionally expanded here to encompass "private" matters such
as workplace surveillance, union busting, persecution of
whistleblowers, corporate political blacklisting, etc.), "the
Electronic Police State destroys free speech, the right to petition the
government for redress of grievances, and other liberties. Worse, it
does so in a way that is difficult to identify."
As Antifascist Calling
and others have pointed out, beside the usual ruses deployed by ruling
class elites to suppress general knowledge of driftnet spying and
wholesale database indexing of entire populations, e.g., "national
security" exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act, outright
subversion of the rule of law through the expansion of "state secrets"
exceptions that prohibit Courts from examining a state’s specious
claims, one can add the opaque, bureaucratic violence of corporations
who guard, by any means necessary, what have euphemistically been christened "proprietary business information."
a state such as ours characterized by wholesale corruption, e.g.,
generalized financial swindles, insider trading, sweetheart deals
brokered with suborned politicians, dangerous pharmaceuticals or other
commodities "tested" and then certified "safe" by the marketeers
themselves, the protection of trade secrets, formulas, production
processes and marketing plans are jealously guarded by judicial pit
Those who spill the beans and have the temerity to reveal
that various products are harmful to the public health or have
deleterious effects on the environment (off-loaded onto the public who
foot the bill as so-called "external" costs of production) are hounded,
slandered or otherwise persecuted, if not imprisoned, by the legal
lackeys who serve the corporatist state.
How does this play out
in the real world? According to Cryptohippie, the objective signs that
an electronic net has closed in to ensure working class compliance with
our wretched order of things, are the following:
Daily Documents: Requirement of state-issued identity documents and registration.
Border Issues: Inspections at borders, searching computers, demanding decryption of data.
Financial Tracking: State’s ability to search and record all financial transactions: Checks, credit card use, wires, etc.
Gag Orders: Criminal penalties if you tell someone the state is searching their records.
Anti-Crypto Laws: Outlawing or restricting cryptography.
Constitutional Protection: A lack of constitutional protections for the individual, or the overriding of such protections.
Data Storage Ability: The ability of the state to store the data they gather.
Data Search Ability: The ability to search the data they gather.
ISP Data Retention: States forcing Internet Service Providers to save detailed records of all their customers‘ Internet usage.
Telephone Data Retention: States forcing telephone companies to record and save records of all their customers‘ telephone usage.
Cell Phone Records: States forcing cellular telephone companies to record and save records of all their customers‘ usage, including location.
Medical records: States demanding records from all medical service providers and retaining the same.
Enforcement Ability: The state’s ability to use overwhelming force (exemplified by SWAT Teams) to seize anyone they want, whenever they want.
Lack of habeas corpus, which is the right not to be held in jail
without prompt due process. Or, the overriding of such protections.
Police-Intel Barrier: The lack of a barrier between police organizations and intelligence organizations. Or, the overriding of such barriers.
State operatives copying digital evidence from private computers
covertly. Covert hacking can make anyone appear as any kind of criminal
desired, if combined with the removing and/or adding of digital
Loose Warrants: Warrants issued without careful examination of police statements and other justifications by a truly independent judge.
familiar? It should, since this is the warped reality manufactured for
us, or, as Debord would have it: "The spectacle cannot be understood as
a mere visual excess produced by mass-media technologies. It is a
worldview that has actually been materialized, a view of a world that
has become objective."
That such a state of affairs is monstrous
is of course, an understatement. Yet despite America’s preeminent
position as a militarist "hyperpower," the realization that it is a collapsing Empire is a cliché only for those who ignore history’s episodic convulsions.
If, as bourgeois historian Niall Ferguson suggests in the March/April 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs,
the American Empire may "quite abruptly … collapse," and that this
"complex adaptive system is in big trouble when its component parts
lose faith in its viability," what does this say about the efficacy of
an Electronic Police State to keep the lid on?
Despite the state’s overwhelming firepower, at the level of ideology
as much as on the social battlefield where truncheons meet flesh and
bullets fly, Marx’s "old mole" is returning with a vengeance, the
"specter" once again haunting "rich men dwelling at peace within their
habitations," as Churchill described the West’s system of organized
Against this loss of "faith" in the system’s
"viability," Debord points out, although the working class "has lost
its ability to assert its own independent perspective," in a more
fundamental sense "it has also lost its illusions."
In this regard, "no quantitative amelioration of its impoverishment, no
illusory participation in a hierarchized system, can provide a lasting
cure for its dissatisfaction."
Forty years on from Debord,
sooner rather later, an historical settling of accounts with the system
of global piracy called capitalism will confront the working class with
the prospect of "righting the absolute wrong of being excluded from any real life."
As that process accelerates and deepens, it will then be the "watchers" who tremble…
Tom Burghardt is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Tom Burghardt