Interview with Rasmus Fleischer
On the many facets of Surveillance
Which different kinds of surveillance are there? And how will surveillance change in the future? Rasmus Fleischer illustrates that in this interview.
Why should I protect my data if I don't have anything to hide?
I'm not saying that you should always protect your data. I think, you have to acknowledge that in many cases there is a good point in being transparent and sharing stuff even in today's climate with large commercial companies that profit from your data because sharing can give fun stuff back. The thing is not that everybody should hide everything all the time but that people should have the possibility of going back and forth between secrecy and transparency. Also, even if you feel that you never want to hide something, maybe you still want to live in a society where some people can have a private sphere.
Which different kinds of surveillance are there and how are they related to each other?
Usually in these discussions people only distinguish between private and public surveillance. Private surveillance is done by companies and the first to come up are Google and Facebook and the like, and advertising companies. Public surveillance is of course done by intelligence services like the NSA. However, I think that things today are much more complex than that. First of all, because an organisation like the NSA gets much of their information from companies like Google and Facebook. So they have also an interest that they have access to lots of information and are processing it, so they can get high quality data about online behaviour.
When we talk about surveillance by private market actors, we also have to distinguish between the white market and the black market. And the black market is huge. Of course it is hard to tell what is going on in criminal networks of various kinds, but these are also connected to each other. There have been lots of hacks where for example huge databases of personal information have been stolen from internet companies. Also there are transactions between black market actors and national security services. Organisations like the NSA actually buy hacks from criminal networks in order to keep ahead in the race to be the best surveillance entity.
How will surveillance change in the future?
I don't think that the future is written in stone already. Lots of things can happen, but I would insist on trying to understand it in the context of financialized economy. The boom in these kinds of big data businesses built on targeted advertisement and large-scale surveillance – including what we call social media – with lots of investment money going to Silicon Valley and elsewhere is driven by a certain period in history where we have had negative interest rates and lots of access to venture capital. And that will not last forever. The economic conditions will change. There will be new kinds of financial downturns which will create turbulence in the technology sector. And that will be interesting to say the least. I can see good things coming out of that, interesting experiments, but I can also see possible scenarios with even more monopolization and centralisation. As a last point, we should not only look at what's happening in Silicon Valley, but also very much at what's happening in China, where we also have a new kind of surveillance capitalism emerging, but one in which the state and the companies are bound much more tightly together.