Quick Response to Jack on the National Surveillance State

Jack suggests that I have misunderstood his argument about a “National Surveillance State,” but I’m not so sure – and I’m pretty confident he has misunderstood my criticism.

To be clear, my point is not specifically about responding to threats, or security issues more generally.  Rather, my argument is about perceptions of computerization.  As we increasingly move from physical conduct to digital equivalents, the computerization of everything increases. What we are observing is a general shift to increasing computerization by everyone – individuals, groups, businesses, even governments – not necessarily a shift to greater surveillance or greater surveillance powers.  My claim is that it is easy to confuse these two possible trends; what looks like a shift to greater surveillance powers is really just one small part of the societal shift to increasing computerization.

Perhaps the basic claim of “the National Surveillance State” is just that as we all use computers more and more, there will be more computerized information, and that we need to think about where all that data is going and what it is used to do.  The shift can alter the balance of power among individuals and institutions in many complex ways, and we need to constantly reassess the balance.  If that’s the argument, I agree with it.  Moreover, I’m not sure anyone would disagree  – although one might object that the label “National Surveillance State” is not a very descriptive way to make the point.   But I had thought based on Jack & Sandy’s article and Jack’s blog posts that the claim was much more government-specific than that.