We're all spies now
But who are you spying for?
In a surveillance society we’re all engaged in pervasive surveillance. Little brothers and little sisters with our eyes open. Yet who are we feeding this intelligence too? How is this intel being used? How could or should it be used?
In today’s dispatch from the near future let’s discuss the rise of crowd-sourced intelligence agencies within the context of open source intelligence.
In reading these words you’ve, joined the Metaviews intelligence network. Hopefully you’re giving us feedback and suggestions.
If you’re a Facebook user then you’re also an agent for them. Twitter is a powerful intelligence agency that has effectively turned journalists, politicians, and many celebrities. Reddit is an easy example of a crowd-sourced intelligence agency, given the collaborative investigations that have taken place on the platform, for better or for worse, accurate or not.
But what if a platform built itself with the express and intent purpose of being a crowd sourced intelligence agency? Wikipedia could be a considered an iteration of this, but the larger question is who is building upon all of these models. The Wikis, Twitter, Reddits, and IRC.
The Crowd-Sourced Intelligence Agency (CSIA) is an interactive artwork that allows users to perform the role of an intelligence analyst through an online interface. It is based on techniques known to be used by intelligence agencies from technical documents, Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and leaked documents. The goal of the project is to help people understand both the effectiveness of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) processing, and its impact on our privacy.
In our issue about Analytics we talked about the democratization of analytics and what it would be like if everyone had access to the dashboard.
Scale this up for social media platforms. What if Facebook or Twitter empowered people with the kind of perspectives and data that some of their senior staff or analytics people have? We get a glimpse of our own social circle, but what perspective does the platform have?
This is both the larger question of speculating what an intelligence agency is able to see (and understand) but also what the digital platforms that dominate our era can see.
CSIA is taking some of the first steps towards creating tools for sous-dataveillance and counter-dataveillance. Interactive replications of intelligence techniques and technologies to allow participants to see some aspects of how dataveillance works in practice. By making abstract ideas about surveillance into concrete, CSIA fosters an informed public debate. The CSIA provides a visceral heuristic: as CSIA agents (users of the app) monitor their own posts and the posts of their friends, they can see how the automated processing changes, reinterprets, reframes, and recontextualizes their posts without needing a background in data science.
I’ve always wondered what a democratic society would be like if more people had training as journalists or intelligence analysts. If they had the literacy to hold power accountable and understand what is happening in their society combined with the ability to communicate and share that knowledge.
Unfortunately it would seem that we have more the opposite. Agnotology is the study of the manufacture of ignorance.
“An intriguing investigation, shattering the hackneyed notion that knowledge is power.”
Let us not forget that information is not power, knowledge is not power, power is power.
And finally check out this paper from Perry Keller:
In making a myriad things more efficient and convenient, advanced data analytics are also opening our lives to unjustifiable biases and unseen manipulations. It is, however, less often considered that algorithmic decision making is also progressively changing the nature of liberal democratic forms of governance. In particular, they are rendering direct public participation in transparency and accountability mechanisms unsustainable.
There’s no reason why this has to be the case. Rather we can design our systems to embrace participation and foster transparency.
That’s your mission agent. That’s our focus, here at the Metaviews Intelligence Agency.