Surveillance, Snowden, and Big Data: Capacities, consequences, critique
Big Data & Society
The Snowden revelations about National Security Agency surveillance, starting in 2013, along with the ambiguous complicity of internet companies and the international controversies that followed provide a perfect segue into contemporary conundrums of surveillance and Big Data. Attention has shifted from late C20th information technologies and networks to a C21st focus on data, currently crystallized in "Big Data." Big Data intensifies certain surveillance trends associated with information
... ology and networks, and is thus implicated in fresh but fluid configurations. This is considered in three main ways: One, the capacities of Big Data (including metadata) intensify surveillance by expanding interconnected datasets and analytical tools. Existing dynamics of influence, risk-management, and control increase their speed and scope through new techniques, especially predictive analytics. Two, while Big Data appears to be about size, qualitative change in surveillance practices is also perceptible, accenting consequences. Important trends persist -the control motif, faith in technology, public-private synergies, and user-involvement -but the future-orientation increasingly severs surveillance from history and memory and the quest for pattern-discovery is used to justify unprecedented access to data. Three, the ethical turn becomes more urgent as a mode of critique. Modernity's predilection for certain definitions of privacy betrays the subjects of surveillance who, so far from conforming to the abstract, disembodied image of both computing and legal practices, are engaged and embodied users-in-relation whose activities both fuel and foreclose surveillance.