This month, August 2013, is the scheduled go live date for the NSA’s massive Utah Data Center with its purported capacity to permanently store the conversations, actions and locations of every man, woman and child in the United States for their entire lives. George Orwell wasn’t thinking big enough. With this backdrop we are seeing a growing number of people armed with cameras recording events that on occasion show members of the government in an unfavorable light. These profound changes in technology will impact our culture and the church. Will the church be led by the culture or will the church apply scripture to impact the culture?
Surveillance and Sousveillance
Etymologists date the term surveillance back to the 1700s from the French to watch over or from above. Sousveillance is a 20th century term to watch from below or sometimes referred to as inverse surveillance. In general we typically see surveillance as government or proprietor cameras recording our actions and sousveillance as the cameras in the hands of private citizens.
As video recording technology has advanced and prices plunged it is common for large corporations like Wal-Mart or a mom and pop shop to equip their facilities with cameras to watch over their property. Governments do the same around their buildings and in many public areas. This is especially true in large cities like London or Chicago where the number of cameras is now counted in the millions.
The various government agencies that operate these cameras do so ostensibly to protect its citizens. Yet with years of empirical evidence now in hand it is hard to find any impact on the safety of citizens or the reduction of crime.
Major events, such as the hijackings of 9/11, the crash into the Pentagon, the Morrow building in Oklahoma, the London subway bombings or the school shootings in Sandy Hook were recorded by government controlled cameras or sometimes, like in the case of the Pentagon, private cameras that were ceased by the government. These videos have never been made public and it calls into question why the surveillance happened in the first place.
The concern over the degree that government controlled surveillance information is been kept from the public eye has fueled the sousveillance response. Private Citizens are frequently recording events where police are involved or at TSA checkpoints. It is not hard to find a privately recorded video taken at a checkpoint where someone is belittled for defending their constitutionally protected rights or treated as a criminal for non-compliance with an unlawful order and arrested or fired on.
On November 18, 2011, an officer, in what appeared to be a callous way, pepper-sprayed a group of protesters at UC Davis in California. It became worldwide news as it was recorded by numerous individuals with cellphone cameras. How different would our memories be if today’s camera technology was available for the May 4, 1970 Kent State shooting? Perhaps the Warren Commission would have offered different conclusions if we had more than the Zapruder film of the November 22, 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Many in Berlin, German have responded to the growing number of cameras by making a game they call Camover. The objective is for one party to video another disabling or destroying cameras. It has garnered a notable following.
The Church in History
We read in Matthew chapter 2 the story of Herod secretly saying to the wise men “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” Herod was using the wise men as surveillance tools. As we continue in the chapter we also see that Herod’s statement, while couched in terms of humble submission, was an outright lie as he inflicted carnage on the male children in Bethlehem. We need to remember Solomon’s words: “there is nothing new under the sun”.
What would Herod have done if he had at his disposal the power of the technology of today? How would have events transpired in first century Israel if the Bethlehem Data Center was operational? Is the leadership in the United States, Great Britain, or any other country in the world very different form Herod?
The mother of Moses defied the state and did not kill her child. To what degree and using what methods should the Christian today defy the state and not be in submission to their prying eyes?
The Use of Technology by the State
We don’t have to look far back in history to see that we are simply modernizing the atrocities of the past. Nazi Germany’s program of encouraging citizens to turn in fellow citizens is today’s DHS “If you see something, say something” program. During the height of the Soviet Union the East German Stasi’s goal was to know everything about everyone. Today as we turn on the switch for the Utah Data Center we have exactly that in the United States. What will our new technological advances bring?
Suspicions run rampant when it comes to how the government may have been involved in events as we ponder their abilities and the impact of the NDAA that gives the president the authority to kill US citizens.
The 1975 Church Committee displayed to the world the CIA’s heart attack gun that leaves no trace of an assassination. Numerous pundits have suggested that the gun or similar technology was used to assassinate Andrew Breitbart in February 2012. True or not, the technology and legal mechanics are in place. Simply having this idea in the public mind will give pause to someone who may be considering something that would be frowned on by the state.
On June 18, 2013 Michael Hastings told a friend “I'm onto a big story, and need to go off the rada[r] for a bit.” A few hours later this man, who is described by friends as “drives like a grandma”, was traveling at high speed and his car blew up before it crashed into a tree. At the August 2013 DEF CON conference in Las Vegas numerous presentations were given about DARPA funded projects on how to remotely take control of a car. Many question if this technology, as well as a bomb, were used to kill Hastings. True or not, it also has a chilling effect on those in like positions.
This year’s DEF CON was also to include a presentation by Barnaby Jack a computer security expert who previously demonstrated how to hack ATMs, and how to kill people who are wearing pacemakers or insulin pumps. A week before the conference Jack died at 35 years of age. Suspicions abound.
The question of using remote control for planes dates back to 9/11. Many seasoned pilots who tried to fly simulators on the same courses to make a high speed impact on the twin towers or the Pentagon failed repeatedly; but three out of three armatures did so successfully. Remote control of plans was in place in 2001. Remote control of cars is in place in 2013.
Contrary to the impression that many have, Edward Snowden did not provide new information about what the NSA is doing, he simply gave names to the programs that the hacker community already knew about. Mr. Snowden has been granted asylum for one year in Russia while there are many in the US that publically state that he should be killed. Do you think other would be whistleblowers are reconsidering how much they should turn a blind eye to state offenses.
The list of questionable deaths, torture or persecution by the US government includes Aaron Swartz, William Binney, Thomas Drake, Bradley Manning, Thomas Tamm, Russ Tice, Phil Zimmermann and untold more.
Remember deaths due to democide vastly outnumber deaths due to terrorism. If this continues to increase will we hear again “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
The Church Today
When Moses sent spies to Canaan only Joshua and Caleb were willing to take on the Canaanite state. After the victory at Mount Carmel Elijah lamented the power of the state to take his life. John the Baptist was willing to point out the sins of members of the state and it cost him his life. Hebrews 11 concludes with a list of costs that have been paid by those of faith and from a worldly perspective it is not attractive. However, from the perspective of faith, obedience is our call.
The state has never been the friend to the common man, only a varying degree of an enemy. State run surveillance is a given and will increase with abandon. The church must decide how to respond. History suggests that most will return to Egypt and submit to the state. Some will take the words of Joshua, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”, frame them and hang them on the wall. Fewer still will live those words.
We can easily fall into the trap of assuming all cops will callously pepper spray us, insult us, or physically harm us for their own pleasure and this is absolutely the wrong course. Personally I can attest to the mercy offered me by an officer who stopped me when I did not notice a blinking school zone sign. I was guilty and expected that the error would cost me several hundred dollars. There was no malice on my part, and the officer showed no malice toward me. Rather I was offered mercy and no fine. This officer showed concern to enlighten me of my error and for that I am grateful. From a Christian perspective, we should assume this level of civility until demonstrated otherwise.
On the other hand there is evidence that there is a concerted effort to displace honorable and wise civil servants with thugs who will gleefully obey the commands of tyrants. The Christian needs wisdom to know when to turn the other cheek and when to buy a sword.
Sousveillance to the Extreme
The reputation of J. Edgar Hoover as head of the FBI was one who kept his position through six presidents because of the vast amount of information he had on people in power. The NSA’s abilities today allow that kind of force to be applied to everyone. An extreme method to fight back is for the general public to do the same via sousveillance of all in the government’s employ. This is an assertive and clearly dangerous response.
Consider what might happen of a small percentage of people started documenting everything they could about all government employees and that information was put into a distributed database with full copies in everyone’s hands. Just as the government targets people for various reasons, the people could do the same for government employees. Would it become less attractive to be a government employee? What would that mean about the character about those who stay in the government’s employ?
With these extreme measures let’s look at an extreme example. In the US and around the world when large events occur, especially when there is a protest, police respond in force. With those events recorded by numerous sources all involved can be identified. The same facial recognition technology used by the government can be used by the citizens. In these situations it is common for the police hide their individual identities by showing no nametags and wearing helmets that obscure their faces. However, as the government boasts, it is now possible to identify someone with almost 100% accuracy by their gait, the way they walk. Wearing a helmet does not change your gait. The playing field is leveled.
What would people do with the information? How would you respond to knowing that someone who lived on your street physically abused a protestor? As a man in the body armor attempting to serve well, how do you respond knowing that your actions are recorded and your identity is public?
It is clear that just as there are “bad cops” there are “bad citizens”. Abuse will happen on both sides. If we reach this extreme or only go partially toward it, we must do so with wisdom and in fear of the Lord.
The Challenge to the Church
The church is not called to bend to culture but to infuse Christian doctrine into the culture. Technology is making surveillance and sousveillance a much larger part of life than in years past and the church must seek the Lord in knowing what to do. We must ask for the wisdom that He gives willingly. We must search the scripture for direction and apply it well. We must not cower in fear or blissfully assume all is well.
I have previously proposed that we are living in Nazi America (http://Distinctivist.com/Article-2013-06-18+1). I stand by that today. The church can hide its light under a basket or be the guiding light is what will clearly be a tumultuous time ahead. Will the church focus on movies, sports, and careers, or obedience to Christ? Will the church act or be acted upon?
These are not simply questions and simple answers will not suffice. The debate must start in earnest. The Christian community must address this issue from multiple fronts and the wisdom of the multitude must be applied. At the same time we must seek the Lord for our ultimate guidance and blessing. Again we must have the wisdom to know when to turn the other cheek and when to buy a sword.
The often quoted statement from Samuel Adams is a fitting close: “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude, than the animating contest of freedom—go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”