On April 1, the British government announced they want to expand their powers to monitor email exchanges and website visits. What at first might have seemed like an April fools is no joke. Even though the new law is said to not allow the intelligence agency GCHQ access to the content of emails, calls, or messages without a warrant, it creates a huge intrusion on privacy.
The new law should be seen in light of the critique Great Britain has already received for its extensive use of video surveillance in the greater London area and the prolonged debate about surveillance cameras — a device for public safety or an infringement of privacy?
So how did we get here? No one can say that we haven’t been warned or that we didn’t see it coming. The Patriot Act, signed in 2001 and promoted under the banner of the war against terror, opened the door for controversial surveillance.
“You don’t have anything to worry about if you don’t have anything to hide,” those who argue for increased monitoring say with the assumption that only criminals will be affected by this breach of privacy. But who decides who is criminal and who is not? And who will be there to hold responsible the ones who misuse our personal information, fail to respect our privacy, and intrude on our civil liberties ? I fail to see which institutions are in place to monitor those who do the monitoring.
As surveillance of our offline and online activities increases, the dystopia of the monitoring society seems already upon us. The idea of the thought police might not seem as distant as before.
So where do we go from here? American artist Hasan Elahi's creative solution comes to mind. Added to the U.S. watch list by mistake, he fought the assault on his privacy by flooding the FBI with information.
Perhaps the proposed course of action has to be controversial. Perhaps we as subjects of surveillance need to take control of the stream of information involving us and feed the system with information until we, as Elahi, tell “everything and nothing” about our lives. And as he reflected in Wired, perhaps one day we will shove so much personal data online that we will put Big Brother out of business.