By João Carlos Rebello Caribé
Brazil is experiencing a troubled electoral moment, where a candidate Jair Bolsonaro, with fascist ideas and linked to the military, is a favorite of the electoral process, since the main candidate, Lula, is in political prison, in the words of Chomsky. Brazil lived a terrible dictatorship in the period from 1964 to 1985, and many who lived at that time fear its return.
In Brazil, General Villas Boas, the commander of the Brazilian army, caused a great deal of discomfort when he said in an interview that “the legitimacy of the new government may even be questioned”, sparking concern about a possible new dictatorship. In the sequence, General Mourão, vice-president of the candidate Bolsonaro, says that a constitution does not have to be made by elected ones of the people. Despite the political, legal and constitutional questions related to these statements, we have an additional concern: What would surveillance be like in a dictatorship in Brazil today?
A dictatorship in Brazil today would probably be less violent, but through massive use of intelligence, it would be relentless, subtle and invisible, quickly detecting any movement or pattern that threatens, long before it became one. In terms of the force matrix it will be extremely disproportionate, with all power to the vigilant and almost none to the watched, a true nightmare for any citizen and any democracy.
The intensity and depth of this vigilance will be limited by the permeability obtained by the dictatorial government from Internet application companies, network operators, communications and security. A simple protocol change, or compulsory installation of devices, would circumvent any technical or legal restriction on this access by the government.
In practical terms, we will be watched 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including at night, while we sleep. The intensity and depth of this vigilance will be limited by the permeability obtained by the dictatorial government from Internet application companies, network operators, communications and security. A simple protocol change, or compulsory installation of devices, would circumvent any technical or legal restriction on this access by the government.
In the current context, mobility and increasing technological development are the engines of the sophisticated surveillance system. Some of the new weapons of the dictatorship will be the Social Network Analysis (SNA), Homophily, Psychometrics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, a lot of data mining, and construction of patterns by deep learning. In general terms, all Brazilian citizens would be susceptible to this new vigilance, hardly anyone would be out of their reach.
It’s a surveillance pattern you probably never imagined, not even in your worst nightmares. Imagine that the government will know that you are reading this text now, from which device, what your location is, whether there are other people close to you, who they are, and whether they are accessing an online service or even watching TV.
In addition, the government, knowing your psychometric profile, particularities, principles, values, and your network of relationships, will know how to value the text you are reading, and how you will process it cognitively. The government will also know which people in your network have read the text, and what value they gave to it, and what interactions have been made around it.
Talking about a relationship network, they can be mapped, even though they have never been explicitly configured, even though you have never added certain people to your social network or your phone book, and have only contacted them in person. Current technologies allow to insert them into your networks, simply because they are close to you, following a positional pattern.
In general, you will not do anything without the government knowing, it may not be focused on you, but your data will always be collected, treated, compared, transmitted and stored.
The government will know what you see, read, hear, buy, how often, and with whom you relate, where you walk, where you work, live, study, have fun, have a car, that is, he will know all your routine. The government will also know about your relationship, marital status, sexual orientation, whether you have one or more partners, STDs, problems and relationship difficulties. They also have access to your physiological and physical activity data if you use smartwatch or do some online recording of these activities. In general, you will not do anything without the government knowing, it may not be focused on you, but your data will always be collected, treated, compared, transmitted and stored.
This pattern of surveillance works on the big data, not on the individual, and the focus of vigilance will be on patterns, that is, if you adopt some suspicious behavioral pattern, if any place you have been, or if someone some of their relationship networks are in the focus of surveillance, everyone in the network and / or everyone who has been in the area will also be subject to surveillance.
The government will know you better than yourself, build predictability patterns, know when a particular pattern means a threat, what type and intensity, and will act to prevent an illicit act that could be made, noting that illicit in a dictatorship is a concept very ambiguous.
You can also be arrested, for example, by like publications about “yellow duck” or cultivation of lettuces. This is simply because eventually a pattern has identified that people who like “yellow duck” publications have a 46% chance of being “subversive,” and if they also like publications on lettuce cultivation this probability increases to 86%.
You may be arrested simply because you have been in a particular place, and close to one of the people involved, sometimes. You can also be arrested, for example, by like publications on “yellow duck” or on the cultivation of lettuces. This is simply because eventually a pattern has identified that people who like “yellow duck” publications have a 46% chance of being “subversive,” and if they also like publications on lettuce cultivation, this probability increases to 86%. These patterns are not so simple, but they serve a logic that does not seem to make sense humanly; they are patterns created by homophily, which means comparing people and their habits, establishing relational logic, and are built through sophisticated machine learning and deep learning processes, from a gigantic amount of comparisons.
The possibilities go beyond surveillance, current technology allows a sophisticated social control, because as practically all interaction with technological mediation is through sophisticated algorithms, it becomes possible to control the information that will reach the individual, the visibility of their groups and friends , hiding or displaying this information according to the intentions of the dictatorship.
The possibilities go beyond surveillance, current technology allows a sophisticated social control, because as practically all interaction with technological mediation is through sophisticated algorithms, it becomes possible to control the information that will reach the individual, the visibility of their groups and friends , hiding or displaying this information according to the intentions of the dictatorship. This practice will distort your common sense understanding, you may have extremely active friends “subversively,” and you will not even notice this, because the algorithms will introduce you to content and people who are in agreement with the interests of the government.
This social control can go beyond social networks and search engines, we are giving our autonomy for applications today use it even to know the best route to a usual way, or what the best restaurant nearby, or what the perfect match for you, in addition to other mundane day-to-day activities.
It is important to remember that the government will also know in detail all your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and will exploit them for its own benefit.
It is important to remember that the government will also know in detail all your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and will exploit them for its own benefit. But not only yours, but also the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the groups you belong to, and explore them in the same way, even producing harmony and discord when necessary through interaction with the algorithms.
This power exists, but is contained and distributed. Cathy O’Neil named then “cardinals the algorithms”, those who hold control of the complex algorithms and gigantic databases of individuals, that is, “human biomass” in the words of Maria Wróblewska. As said, this power is contained and distributed, Facebook and Google for example have control over their “human biomass”, but use features such as trackers, pixels and partnerships to break, even if partially these barriers. In this way, for example, you receive advertising for a newly searched item on the Internet on your Facebook. If the government gains wide access to all these networks, becoming a “mega-cardinal of the algorithm,” it will become practically a god with broad powers over individuals, and as stated earlier, this power can be taken, easily in a regime of exception.
All this control, will allow the dictatorship to perpetuate itself for years, decades without anything threatening it, unless the “subversive” forces can get rid of this complex body of surveillance. Although scary, this scenario is extremely real and possible, with the current technological resources.
21st Century Surveillance
In order for you to understand the scenario, it is necessary to completely change your surveillance concept, which is what I will try in the next few paragraphs.
When it comes to surveillance, the image of a camera comes to mind, with someone watching behind the monitors. Surveillance systems are naturally seen this way, with rooms full of screens, and people eyeing these screens. It is an obsolete, inefficient model, and is bound to disappear in a few years, being replaced by a “blind surveillance.”
The surveillance model of Benthan’s Panopticon, described by Foucault in “Discipline & Punish,” is similar to the surveillance model of George Orwell’s dystopian work, 1984, represented by “telescreen,” a device that at the same time served as a TV with exclusive programming from the “party”, served with eyes and ears for the “Big Brother”. The panoptic model is based on the pair see and being seen, from a central observation point, having the vigilant wide view of the prisioner, and this no vision of the vigilant, presuming to be watched. The Panopticon described by Foucault, on this premise, becomes more an instrument of control, than properly vigilance. A light, efficient control, without grids, invisible, and by the assumption of being watched.
The panopticon, which represents the model of vigilance up to the 20th century, has become obsolete in the 21st century. Zigmunt Bauman in “Liquid Surveillance” introduces the concept of “personal panopticon” in which the individual becomes vigilant of himself and his peers, and each carries his own Panopticon, materialized by Bauman as his smartphones and connected devices. What Bauman describes, dialogues with what Fernanda Bruno, in “Máquinas de ver, Modo de Ser. Vigilância Tecnologia e Subjetividade”, describes as “Distributed Surveillance”, which takes away the centrality of surveillance, the main characteristic of the panopticon. Distributed Surveillance comes from several connected devices, not just one, configuring what I classify as a surveillance meta device, which are interconnected devices, such as a smartphone connected to a smartwatch.
The advent of the big data replaced the panoptic model with Panspectron. The panspectron is an expression coined by Manuel DeLanda in 1991, in the book “War in the age of intelligent machines”, and later used by Sandra Braman in the book “Change of State – Information, Policy, and Power”. The focus of panspectron is not the individual in particular, it is focused on the data, on all data, and its focal action occurs in response to the patterns, as previously described. Data mining, the use of machine learning and deep learning, constitute a blind surveillance, a standards-based surveillance where its visibility becomes necessary only in response to deviant or resonant patterns, these data are collected through devices and meta devices of surveillance.
Devices and meta devices, from the perspective of Distributed Surveillance, configure a complex Surveillance Organism, where each represents one of the billions of nodes of this organism. It’s like we’re literally immersed in a mega surveillance device with high capillarity and invisibility. They are smartphones, tablets, computers, smartwatch, wearables, surveillance cameras, drones, RFID, open networks, mobile phone networks, and any other connected technological device, hereinafter referred to as “device.”
To give you an idea of the potential for surveillance devices, the most popular smartphones such as the iPhone and Galaxy S have sensors such as GPS, beacon, barometric altimeter, accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor and ambient light, smart assistant, microphone, speaker, front and back camera, and some form of biometric identification. In addition to having Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G and 4G connectivity. These devices are most often collecting data, unintentionally, and very expensive to the individual and their privacy.
We now have a surveillance organism with more than 12.3 billion devices, or 1.6 devices per inhabitant of the planet.
According to the Internet World Stats, in December 2017, 4.1 billion people had access to the Internet, whereas the Cisco report projects that by 2020 there will be an average of 3.4 Internet-connected devices per users, and considering the average of 3 devices, we now have a surveillance organism with more than 12.3 billion devices, or 1.6 devices per inhabitant of the planet, considering the current population at 7.7 billion, without counting the other surveillance devices such as cameras, drones, and others, and without forgetting that each device can have several sensors.
We hardly realize that we carry with us such a powerful surveillance device, to the point that many activists call them “a surveillance device that allows us to make phone calls.” They track us even when we are not connected to the Internet, as this Fox News story demonstrates.
But it is not only these devices and technologies that can literally end up with our privacy, in case of the installation of a dictatorship in the country. Our habits on the internet also produce data about us, in addition to the relations mediated by algorithms, are cookies, trackers, remarketing that capture data about us.
Facebook, for example, makes use of trackers to know what you do on the Internet, when it is not in it, but also uses data from WhatsApp and Instagram because they are companies of the same group. In fact Facebook and Google are the clearest representation of what Shoshana Zuboff calls surveillance capitalism. This complex mechanism for capturing, collecting, processing, analyzing and storing data called Facebook was explored in depth by ShareLab, and described in monologue form by the Panoptykon Foundation in the following video.
As you can see, we can not think of a model of surveillance and control in the 21st century, with the mind of the twentieth century, the format and concept of surveillance have changed. From the Panopticon of Foucault, where the pair was seen to be seen, at Braman’s Panspectron, where indiscriminate collection of data is paramount, vigilance manifests itself in responses to patterns. The data we produce can tell us much more than simple surveillance. The current model, represented in the figure below, has the visual characteristics of the Panopticon, but only as a complementary element to the vast potential of Panspectro surveillance.
Let’s take, for example, a real case, the Norte Shopping, in Rio de Janeiro. This mall installed a modern system of security cameras that makes the facial recognition of all that pass inside, which even allowed the arrest of two wanted criminals. The system, according to the company that provides it, as described in the matter, does the facial recognition of the individual and compares it with a database.
Imagine then that you enter this mall, the system will read your face, without you noticing, then consult a database, and if it does not find a record, it will create a new one with the mathematical model of its face, giving one hypothetical identifier “IND18A7F8E7”. The system then registers your displacement within the mall, where stores stopped to see the shop window, which ones entered, how long it took, etc. All this is done without any human interaction, but everything is recorded, I suppose.
At this point you pick up your smartphone and decide to connect to the mall’s wifi network, which usually asks for cadastral data such as name, national ID, and phone number to grant access. Assuming that the systems are interconnected, from this point using the triangulation of the wifi access points, your position can be determined and compared to the position of the surveillance camera register, associating your data with the user IND18A7F8E7. Again we remember that everything is done without any human interaction.
Now imagine, in a dictatorship, that systems like these are interconnected, and all the data is accessed by the government. Even if you are not carrying any devices, your identification will be possible with such systems.
While we do not have to go very far, even in Rio de Janeiro, CodingRights did a study on the “carioca ticket” (public transportation pass), and came to the conclusion that user data, including biometric facial recognition, is shared with the police and the municipal secretary of transport. Imagine then that even in the bus it is possible to travel incognito. Join these, car license plate recognition systems, which have cameras scattered around the city, the new license plate with chip card and QR Code, and your car can be tracked, the limits of surveillance do not end there.
For years we have been exchanging our freedom, our privacy and autonomy for the comfort of technology, and for the security it provides, the price of this practice will only be realized when we become a prisoner in a dictatorship.
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If you are a native English speaker, I would like to hear some criticism and suggestions about my translation, and in advance thank you for your cooperation.