MatomoCamp 2021

Are we there yet? The present and future of surveillance societies.
2021-11-05, 11:00–11:45 (Europe/Berlin), Livestream Room 1
Language: English

Where are we on the adoption curve of surveillance technologies? Are all slippery slopes arguments - stating that a small backdoor can lead to big violations - fallacies? And what is at stake with an increase in surveillance and loss of privacy?

Let me lay out a bleak scenario.

We have accepted the loss of our reality privilege and transitioned from physical into information beings. We are floating merrily in our preferred metaverses. We are all friendly neighbours, and we are all hostile tribesmen. Every one of us is watched, and every one of us is a watcher. There are no barriers, and the gathering of data about our actions to use them in ways not designed for our benefit is continuous.

Yet the source of the gravest dangers to our freedom has not changed: those who want power, and willing to cross inviolable boundaries – set by morals, principles and the law. Our privacy is under attack, now more than ever, to document our behavior, to be used to monitor, influence, nudge and control.

We were not sure how this game of surveillance would play out. States now derive information about their populations not just from contents and metadata of their communications, but their DNA, location data, facial expressions and more. In certain jurisdictions all information about us have been centralized and is accessible to anyone with a police badge, making you a potential suspect every day. In other countries data is used to dangle carrots to aid panopticon style control, where the obedient thrive and the dissenting wither away.

Tech corporations now compare themselves to states, and want involvement in every aspect of our lives. They know more about us than we could comprehend. Phones are routinely scanned by the manufacturers to check whether you store incriminating materials on them. Privacy legislations provide too little protection too late, while fines don’t serve as deterrents: they are calculated cost of doing business. Businesses at the top use surveillance techniques not just to capture trillions of dollars of value, but to cooperate with the state to enhance their monitoring capabilities. Some citizens have accepted these developments, the rest are stuck in a paralysed, cynical state.

Are we talking about a potential future or the present?

Can you tell?

Let’s say it is the future. We can go back in time and rethink the boundaries, redraw the lines, and erect some fences. What would you differently and where would you stand?

Let’s say it is the present. Have your recent actions and work aided or challenged this reality?

Viktor Vecsei is a privacy activist, researcher and writer. He is the Head of Communications at IVPN and the founder of The Privacy Issue, an editorial platform.