From Inventing Ourselves, p70-79:
Government depends upon knowledge. Not simply the knowledge of statecraft, which had been the subject if innumerable books of advice to princes in classical antiquity and in the Middle Ages. But a positive knowledge of the domain to be governed, a way of rendering it into thought, so that it can be analyzed, evaluated, it’s ills diagnosed and remedies prescribed. Such ‘representation’ has two significant aspects: the articulation of languages to describe the object of government and the invention of devices to inscribe it . . .
. . . Modern citizens are thus not incessantly dominated, repressed, or colonized by power . . . but subjectified, educated, and solicited into a loose and flexible alliance between personal interpretations and ambitions and institutionally or socially valued ways of living. The languages and techniques of psychology provide vital relays between contemporary government and the ethical technologies by which modern individuals come to govern their own lives.
From After Nature, p13:
A definition of political ecology for technonature would emphasize the biocultural configurations that are emerging and those that are possible according to particular constellations of actors, technologies, and practices. The political ecology of technonature would study the actual and potential biocultural arrangements linked to technoscience, particularly along the axes of organicity-artiflciality and reality-virtuality. It would examine discourses and practices of life and the extent to which they are conducive to new natures, social relations, and cultural practices. It is important that the ethnographies of technonature not focus on elite contexts only or on their impact on nonelite communities; they should also explore the locally constituted cultural and material resources that marginalized communities are able to mobilize for their adaptation or hybridization in the production of their identities and political strategies
The NY Times reports on China’s new surveillance policy requiring citizens to log into news sites with their “real identities” before posting comments. After pointing out that the comments posted to these news sites were already heavily censored and traceable via a commenter’s IP address, the article notes the fallibility of this new layer of surveillance:
The new step is not foolproof, the editors acknowledged. It was possible for a reporter to register successfully on several major sites under falsified names and ID and cellphone numbers.
So, this new layer of surveillance doesn’t really give the state much new information, and it’s at least as fallible as existing forms of digital surveillance. While this surveillance practice, and others, will evolve and become more sophisticated – allowing access to more kinds of (formerly) personal information – people will also evolve and become more sophisticated in their efforts to ensure a comfortable level of privacy. Questioning the efficacy of such a policy, in order to rationalize or irrationalize its application, seems limited. It’s a powerful line of inquiry, particularly for short term tactical gain such as getting Verizon Wireless to stop censoring texts from NARAL, or convincing China to scale back its implementation of the Green Dam Youth Escort. In both cases, however, their was no omission of wrong doing and their was no agreement that they won’t do it again. The only admission was that, within a specific context, a specific surveillance practice was considered to be an ineffective means of ensuring security. In short, questions of efficacy challenge whether a specific surveillance practice does what it claims to do, not how a specific surveillance practice restructures our environment and shapes our daily behaviors (for better or worse).
A better question would ask how this “new layer of surveillance” restructures everyday life – how does this layer shape the built environment and our behaviors within it? What are the costs, benefits, pleasures, and perils associated with this new layer of surveillance?
Whether or not signing into a web site with a “true identity” will compromise public discourse by making individuals more susceptible to retribution, it certainly does introduce a new practice that a person must perform before participting in a public discussion. That sort of embodied practice, even when subverted, shapes our experiences and influences our behavior. Acknowledging upfront that surveillance always works allows us to get to the more important questions of how it works.
I hear (and read) many people reference the fallibility of the latest and greatest corporate/government surveillance practice — by which they mean “surveillance practice X” doesn’t actually do what “group X” claims it’s supposed to do. This often feeds the illusion that because “it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do” it’s somehow benign and ineffectual — that it doesn’t work. Yet every time a new surveillance policy is implemented it works, in a multitude of ways, on our environment and it encourages a broad range of behavior. Attention to how surveillance works in (and on) everyday life gets us away from short-term questions of efficacy and closer to important long-term issues of social (in)justice, equality, and well being.
After being weirded out by a LifeLock advertisement on TV, I did a Google search on the company and found a great article on Wired. It turns out that one of the company’s founders is suspected of identity theft and customers of a former business he ran ended up having their identity stolen. LifeLock is a company which claims to “protect your good name” by preventing identity theft for $100 a year. To the right is the LifeLock logo, note the human-pad lock and the byline.
What I find most fascinating / terrifying about LifeLock is its marketing strategy, that “your good name” can be protected through security. Credibility, according to this company, is about preventing your identity from being stolen – about securing your identity. Of course to sign up you must turn your identity over to LifeLock by providing them with your First Name, Middle Name, Last Name, E-mail Address, Mobile Phone, Home Phone, Address, Credit Card #, Birthday, Social Security Number and so on…
Did I mention they have a special deal for kids? No joke…