Here’s an idea which has been gnawing away at me for a couple of years.
Since my Master’s dissertation on surveillance this year, and my growing familiarity with the concepts of both Big Data and Open Data (I am currently unclear if the latter’s supporters deliberately do not capitalise the term!), as well as commercial work I have recently been doing on the concepts, I have had the opportunity to wonder whether all is right in the commercialisation of data: in particular, Big Data; in particular, the philosophies underlying its harvesting and posterior processing.
I am on the point of completing – at breakneck speed – a book by the Guardian’s Luke Harding. It’s called “The Snowden Files”, was published in 2014 by the Guardian itself and Faber & Faber, and explains very clearly that the American NSA and the British GCHQ’s philosophy around the bulk-collection of all global citizens’ data involves the principle of “collect everything first, and then work out what to do with it – as well as how – afterwards”.
Now I may be a fair novice and rather green in the technical side of Big Data, but it doesn’t half strike me – at least, at first glance – that this is exactly the lever which notable tech corporations are using to get a perhaps relatively uninformed acceptance around the commercialisation of tools, procedures and new processes in existing work environments.
Whilst responsible data-protection agencies across the world attempt to promote the idea that information has a shelf-life, should not be kept forever, should be collected for very specific purposes, and should never be crept into others, the NSA and GCHQ have ploughed a very different furrow.
And – oh Lordy! – it would seem Big Data’s proponents believe the same.
The question is how this might have come about. The answer lies in Luke Harding’s book, in everything the Guardian reported on in 2013, and in the reasons why Snowden really went public. The collusion of large tech in both a-legal and illegal bulk-collection of citizen data made the NSA and GCHQ programmes practicable.
The side-effect of collusion, however, is that once the patterns are familiar and the Rubicon crossed, it becomes so very much easier to choose to make money – not just be a patriot – out of the very invading of humanity’s most precious privacies.
And whilst the arguments on the rights and wrongs of what the spooks have been doing over the past decade and a half will continue to rage, to actually go so far as to conceptualise a business model – Big Data – that allows tech corporations to turn the processes and procedures of anti-terrorism into new and fertile ways of making money … well … this is surely some pale we can all agree has been gone beyond.