It has already been discussed in this course the concerns we all have with overreach in data collection in our lives (for example, the weeks on privacy and algorithms). But so far these discussions have been mainly kept to how internet giants collect our data and use it to craft our online experiences. Moving toward government surveillance, programs like the NSA’s PRISM program collected “live information, photos, video chats and data from social networks (West 2013, point 2),” from individuals regardless of their level of suspicious behavior. For the average person, it may feel like an uncomfortable intrusion, but most people are busy and harmless, and this is not the cross they’re willing to die on. Richards (2013) gives us a detailed explanation, as well as the not-so-slippery slope of consequences this kind of monitoring can bring. The consequence that struck me the most is Richards’s discussion of sorting and discrimination. I believe this already happens. Ensuring people of color in our country are held one step back is certainly nothing new in this country. Government data collection and interference could ensure people of color don’t get access to the same information online (see also: net neutrality [!!!]), or that people of privilege could get entirely separate news when they open their phones (not personalized echo chambers, but actual government media appearing differently to different demographics). The government could also affect who has access to their own technological equipment. We know the government can hack phones to record, is it so far-fetched to think they could also disable our cameras in, for example, a riot, so that one could not capture police footage? Countries have done similar things during uprisings like block YouTube or “The Internet” as a whole so footage could not be shared. What if this was only done to certain demographics?
On an international level, West (2013) discusses the distrust caused by the United States’s surveillance of our allies (points 10, 12). Richards argues that surveillance at its core inherently “affects the power dynamic between the watcher and the watched (p. 1953).” There can never be a friendly situation where one side is monitoring the other and things are still considered equal. Surveillance always means we know more about the watched than they know about us, and that becomes the breeding ground for distrust and paranoia. In Germany especially, surveillance by the government of any kind is highly scrutinized and publicly frowned upon, since in former East Germany, the Stasi operation employed one of the largest citizen-spy organizations ever created by a government. Germans 25 and older (and, I would argue, those younger simply by learning from their parents) remember the wrath of the Stasi and the consequences of real government surveillance to “keep the peace.” I believe the overreach by the U.S., while perhaps not an issue we see a lot of literature on at the moment, will not be soon forgotten and forever affects our relationship with the country.