The UK data protection regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, asked scholars in 2006 and 2010 to try to grasp what was going on when it seemed that every policy ‘solution’ had a surveillance aspect to it.
Their body of work defined a surveillance state as a society that is organised and structured on surveillance.
Here’s what they found:
- The surveillance nearly always starts off as being purposeful and justified on a publicly agreeable goal.
- Then it becomes routine; it happens as we all go about our daily business, it’s in the weave of life and not always visible.
- The surveillance is systematic; it is planned and carried out according to a schedule that is rational, not merely random.
- Lastly, it is focused; surveillance gets down to details, such as aggregating and storing data that can be transmitted, retrieved, compared, mined, and traded.
The scholars then identified a myriad of risks as a result of this surveillance society: threats to human rights (including privacy), discrimination and exclusion, social sorting, function creep, and disempowerment.
In 2014, former congressional aide Mike Lofgren alleged the existence of a different type of deep state operating within the United States government in his essay titled “Anatomy of the Deep State.”
Instead of a group comprised exclusively of government entities, Lofgren calls the deep state in the United States “a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process.” The Deep State, wrote Lofgren, is not “a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. It is not a tight-knit group and has no clear objective. Rather, it is a sprawling network, stretching across the government and into the private sector.”
In some ways, Lofgren’s description of a deep state in the United States echoes parts of President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address, in which he warned future presidents to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”
Golden Shield, or the Great Firewall of China
Although the Chinese Ministry of Public Security has been developing the Golden Shield Project since the 1990s, the project made its first public appearance in 2000, during the Trade Show held in Beijing. Security China 2000, one of the showcases in the Trade Show, became the foundation of the Golden Shield Project. According to a report by Greg Walton, Security China 2000 aimed to promote “the adoption of advanced information and communication technology to strengthen central police control, responsiveness, and crime combating capacity, so as to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of police work.” The government initially envisioned the Golden Shield Project to be a comprehensive database-driven surveillance system that could access every citizen’s record as well as link national, regional, and local security together.
The unexpected speed of Internet expansion in China, however, necessitated various adjustments to the initial vision of the Golden Shield Project. The liberalization of the telecommunication sector bought about rapid changes in technology. This greatly reduced the project’s potential to be the system that links information from all levels, local to national. As a result of reassessment and evaluation, the Golden Shield Project now focuses on content-filtering firewalls on individuals instead – the direction that eventually earned the nickname the Great Firewall of China. In other words, the project shifted from “generalized content control at the gateway level to individual surveillance of users at the edge of the network.”
—Torfox, a Stanford project