"And while governments have been on the wrong end of this information flattening, they’ve also developed tools to make it work to their advantage."This won't have quite the disruptive effects of the invention of printing: the impacts of printing, which standardised and corrected texts, radically expanded the number of readers and writers, changed the way we absorb information and enabled a critical mass for permanent intellectual innovation, took hundreds of years to play out. The internet merely completes this process; the availability of huge amounts of information online won't have the same impacts compared with 20th century literate culture as the availability of huge number of standardised books had compared with mediaeval manuscript and oral culture. And while governments have been on the wrong end of this information flattening, they’ve also developed tools to make it work to their advantage. They've created a literal information economy in which thousands of companies generate additional information for governments through surveillance, data aggregation and cybercrime (the United States government is the world's most successful cybercriminal). They've exploited the physical and commercial bottlenecks of the internet -- undersea cables and the biggest software, search and social media providers -- to vacuum up internet data, filter it and aggregate it. Unlike corporations, governments tend not to monetise aggregated personal data, but nonetheless aggregation makes it more valuable for them, particularly in relation to the targeting of individuals who pose a threat. The nature of the threat -- whether it’s a terrorist who might undertake an attack, activists who might draw public attention to something governments are embarrassed about or offend significant corporate interests, or journalists who might subject governments to scrutiny -- is in this context irrelevant. This swings the information advantage back toward governments. Successive US administrations, and especially the Obama administration, have sought to hide this by keeping internet and phone surveillance as secret as possible, constructing an entire shadow legal system out of public or political gaze to wave through repeated extensions of surveillance powers (in contrast, for example, Australia’s Senate has repeatedly waved through extensions to surveillance powers, but in full public view). This quest for secrecy has also been reinforced by a ruthless exploitation of the full legal powers of the US government to attack whistleblowers, activists and journalists. This secrecy was difficult to permanently maintain, even with senior officials willing to lie to Congress; one whistleblower has revealed the vast nature of the shadow system, and now many in the US Congress are arguing that legislative limits have been exceeded, but it has held up for over a decade. *Tomorrow: if you take the logic of information as a resource seriously, you start to see the profound damage it can cause when coupled with profound secrecy
Understanding surveillance as an information economy
The problems of a surveillance state become more obvious when you understand information as a resource that governments exploit.