The world turns to Europe in search of epochal leadership, especially after President Obama’s timid January speech on the NSA. EU President Martin Schulz wrote a moving essay in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung recently. He calls for a new social movement to humanize and civilize the “technology revolution.” The FAZ asked me to write a response to Mr. Schulz, published today, that you can read here in German and here in English.
In this essay, largely drawn from my new work in The Summons (forthcoming, Public Affairs, 2015), I begin to theorize the emergence of a new concentration of institutional power that I call the “military-informational complex.” It expresses the convergence of interests and practices shared by Big Tech and the NSA (and its cohorts around the world). The military-informational complex develops techniques to “weaponize” our data in order to produce new “weapons of mass detection.” With respect to these weapons we are both the bullet and the bullseye. The military-informational complex stands to inherit the mantle of Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex.
In light of this new institutional configuration, it is ludicrous to think that Big Tech can champion our interests in privacy and freedom. It’s equally obvious that our governments are unlikely to champion consumer sovereignty by regulating or overseeing Big Tech’s intrusive excesses. How can we expect them to regulate the companies that supply their information arsenal?
Technology is merely the Trojan horse that ushers in these new forms of secret power. The surveillance paradigm arises from a convergence of business choices and political inclinations. Technology is the camouflage, not the driver. That means our responses must be political and social. We are at the beginning of this struggle, not the end.