What’s wrong with a little surveillance?

Surveillance, in a word (or two) is competitive advantage.  When I raise concerns over how much surveillance is being done either by a national government, or by corporate entities, the response is usually luke-warm at best.  I think you should care.  I think we ALL should care.

Think of surveillance like a poker game.  Every little twitch you make is a “tell” to those playing with you.  And why are they playing with you?  They wish to take your money.  Same reason a corporation plays with you.  It is in your interest as a poker player to hide your “tells,” right?  Is it wrong for you to attempt to disguise your action?  Is it wrong for others at the table to “surveill” you and learn to read your actions, in order to guide their own actions?  No, that is the game.

But what if you go to a poker table, thinking you’re on a fair playing field, when in fact there is a camera in the table to see your cards, your seat is monitoring heart rate and blood pressure, etc?  It is clearly an unfair game in which you will lose.

I mean, keeping in the theme of this blog, that is purely and simply the act of “belief formation.”   It is stimulus and response, and those who can “read” a situation better win, or survive.  So it seems that “surveillance” at an individual level is reading those you compete with, or those whose cooperation you wish to influence in your direction (salesmanship, diplomacy, love).  Would I argue against the right of an individual to observe and react to the world, in an attempt to shape it to their betterment?  No. That would deny a person’s right to believe.  Imagine a world where you are prevented from observing and drawing conclusions, all the while surveilled by a force NOT bound by those restrictions.

There is power in accumulated knowledge and data. There is power in concerted work toward a common goal. There is power in a union — a government, a corporation, a labor force.  When one side is allowed to collaborate and leverage data it collects from the other side, but the other side is not given access to the same data, or allowed to share data between each other, the individuals lose.

The ability to read a person’s (or a whole statistical population’s) “tells,” is simply a competitive advantage, and the issue and concern that arises is one of justice and fairness:  when should we allow a competitive advantage to be used to preserve competitive advantage?   When should competitive advantage be limited, so that the benefits of some degree of “churn” and upward mobility can be harvested?

When government competitive advantage is mustered to take away the very rights it presumes to protect, using the funding granted to it by the people over whom it presides, then surveillance has exceeded the bounds.  It’s another form of a loyalty issue:  we thought they were working for us and our interests.  We’ve been cheated.

Governments and corporations have aces up their sleeves in this game, and we, the individuals, lose.



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