Let's start a wide debate around how to defend our privacy against emergency powers, part 2

TL;DR: If you don’t wanna read, I’ve made a few videos summarizing all of this and part of the interviews. Links here: (1, 2, 3)

This is the continuation of this post. What is this about? I’m running interviews with academics, experts and activists to understand the surveillance and loss of civil rights that are coming with the current pandemic. The idea is to start a wide debate around how to defend our privacy against emergency powers. But most importantly: How we can fight back and earn our civil rights and privacy.

You can ask questions about each interview and I’ll ask them to the guests. And at some point I’ll do a livestream where you can ask questions directly.

Why am I doing this? First, I want to do a feature documentary about this. Because I believe this needs to be documented and presented to the public in a cinematic way. And second, and this is the core, because we urgently need to start a wide social debate about this.

Alright, now I’ve done seven interviews and there are a few questions that are still pending—some of them are focused on the technical aspects of preserving our privacy. Nonetheless, the big questions remain.

I’ll get to those answers soon in future interviews… Right now we could focus on technical questions, but I believe first we need to get the fundamental questions right. Otherwise, we won’t be able to find the right answers.

Right now I’m seeing there are a couple of threads we need to pull in order to start figuring things out. The first one is about finding the root of the problem. What is the core? Because if we understand where the root is, solving it would become much easier.

Now, we’re seeing a few ways this core problem is manifesting itself (more in the videos below), but we still need to dive deeper. I have a few hunches…

Capitalism thrives on insecurity… Astra Taylor recently published a great article called the insecurity machine—I believe this is at the core of the conversation… I’m trying to get Astra on the show (so far, unsuccessfully).

Also I want to properly cover the nature of debt. David Graeber has a phenomenal book on this called Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Hopefully one day I’ll interview him too.

Now, on another note, we’re seeing how events are currently unfolding around the world. We’ve got the protests in the US. We’ve got China removing Hong Kong’s democratic powers. And as I said in a previous thread, studying revolutions as they form will be really useful in the future.

That will teach us some “privacy hygiene.” (Interestingly, protesters can be tracked by analyzing the datasets from their smartphones—link. Now imagine that combined with contact tracing apps that can tell who’s been around as well.)

Since the interviews are time consuming for you and hard to keep up with, I’m starting to make short videos condensing all the knowledge from these interviews—as well as serving as an update on how things are moving forward.

You can find them here:

(Sorry for the YouTube/Invidious links. I’ve tried to use a peertube but I can’t find any instance without a real unlimited uploading quota—I managed to upload some videos here, but not all of them)

In this first video I explain what this project is about and how this works: (Invidious link)

In the second one I explain in depth what I described above about the core problem and solutions to this problem: (Invidious link)

And in this third video (and I think this is critically important) I explain the reason why surveillance capitalism is a mainstream idea. We should talk instead about how capitalism has its roots based on colonialism, and start talking about data colonialism. But also talk about Data Dictatorships. I made this video because some people asked me to do it. And I think this is great to get everybody on the same page. (Invidious link)

I published an entire book about this called Data Dictatorships. You can read it for free here: https://borjamoya.com/DataDictatorships/

I don’t want to make this post too long, but I also want to share something that came up in my interview with Marta Peirano (Spanish author and researcher — Invidious link). It’s just a great reminder on the importance of FOSS: https://twitter.com/iamBorjaMoya/status/1265953452519297024

(Full conversation with Marta here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFI5fYmuypc)

Please let me know if you think this is useful. They’re time consuming for me but I’ll try to release at least one of these short videos per week. As well as more interviews.

Please comment down below questions, thoughts, whatever. Maybe we don’t answer everything right away, but everything is noted and at some point I’ll find answers for your questions. And of course, feel free to reach out to me via DM or email at hello(at)borjamoya(dot)com


I’m just a nobody with no particular credentials, but I find this topic interesting so some thoughts:

I live in Iceland and this has not been a discussion at all. But Icelanders also share their “social security number” as freely as their phone number (it’s generally not handled in the same way as it is in the states) so our ideas about security, privacy, and rights are different in some subtle ways. You would probably not get an Icelander to agree that the government-mandated closure of businesses in this specific circumstance is a government overreach.

Which gets back to your point about agreeing on the fundamental questions. To your question of “What is the core?” I think the root of it all is indifference from the majority of individuals (or more precisely, they have implicitly weighed convenience against security and they prefer convenience).

Companies abusing personal information is bad, right? Sure. Politicians legislating to favor corporations over individuals is bad, right? Sure. But let’s suppose tomorrow people suddenly started opting out en masse from Facebook and completely stopped signing up for credit cards that would sell their credit history to companies without their consent. Corporations would have no choice but to take notice of this and adjust if they wanted to stay relevant.

This is not to dispute the cynical view of corporations or politicians, but in my opinion if you embrace the notion that the exploited are complicit in their exploitation, then that leads you down a very different path than if you assume the data slaves/colonists are actively primed to revolt if only they weren’t being exploited.

Hey we’re all just people too and I don’t think we should trust in credentials.

This idea that people are complicit in their exploitation is fascinating. However I think nobody really wants to be exploited. What’s happening is that people are weighing the benefits of giving up their privacy against the dangers of losing their privacy. And people are usually choosing to give up their privacy, because it’s better than paying, or they get monetary benefits, or a better service.

But let’s not forget that most privacy violations are done in the dark. Nobody informs us, and if they have to they use deceptive language that nobody reads anyway. I’m sure that if people saw all of the dangers of giving up their privacy in advance (this is hypothetical, because that is practically almost impossible), very many people would not use the associated services.

The idea of exploitation deserves further examination.

I found this article about the United States fascinating. It mentions that “millennials will have to overthrow the system and rewrite the social contract if they want to meaningfully improve their lives.” Because people these days are being exploited more for their labor “human capital” but getting less in return. That’s led people to live in perpetual panic, and also to put their life attention on being better workers, rather than having actual lives.

Malcom Harris is author of “Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials.” I find calling 20-40 years old adults “kids” highly insulting.

I’m sorry but I just disagree that China and United States are “two sides of the same coin.” United States has an authoritarian faction that is trying to take contro,l but the two just aren’t comparable in terms of history, politics, and culture.

Also, where’s the EU in your theory? Surely all those people wearing yellow vests aren’t imagining things…

Marx was not the “best social theorist” of capitalism. His prediction about capitalism self-destructing did not prove true, but his ideology did inspire the destruction of many countries, and mass starvation and murder of their people.

So-called surveillance capitalism only became successful when the government granted internet companies immunity from lawsuits. Only then did it become possible to make a profit this way. It’s similar in that case to the vaccine industry who had to beg the government for immunity to stay in business. Without government action these entire industries would not exist.

Generations of Americans were robbed of our wages through inflation and taxes until most people can no longer even afford a newspaper subscription. That is not capitalism (the actions of free and secure individuals) but the result of government corruption.

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You are doing a great job in raising awareness about privacy invasions. And we need way more of that to show the public how pervasive it is all becoming. The Electronic Frontier Foundation started a project to monitor surveillance in the US:

Law enforcement surveillance isn’t always secret. These technologies can be discovered in news articles and government meeting agendas, in company press releases and social media posts. It just hasn’t been aggregated before.

That’s the starting point for the Atlas of Surveillance, a collaborative effort between the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the University of Nevada, Reno Reynolds School of Journalism. Through a combination of crowdsourcing and data journalism, we are creating the largest-ever repository of information on which law enforcement agencies are using what surveillance technologies. The aim is to generate a resource for journalists, academics, and, most importantly, members of the public to check what’s been purchased locally and how technologies are spreading across the country.

We specifically focused on the most pervasive technologies, including drones, body-worn cameras, face recognition, cell-site simulators, automated license plate readers, predictive policing, camera registries, and gunshot detection. Although we have amassed more than 5,000 datapoints in 3,000 jurisdictions, our research only reveals the tip of the iceberg and underlines the need for journalists and members of the public to continue demanding transparency from criminal justice agencies.

And Hacker News Discussion.

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Thank you @aschrijver, this is really interesting. This EFF’s project is great. I think this is the beginning. We’re on the right track but there’s much more to do.

At some point we’ll need to expand this to the entire world and cover more than just the police.

Maybe we should start something like this. Anyone interested?