“. . . we’ve begun to understand that ‘privacy’ policies are actually surveillance policies.” — Shoshona Zuboff
Whether you like it or not, you are being surveilled. It’s time to know exactly how.
Surveillance Today is a weekly newsletter and podcast making sense of the latest surveillance news so you don't have to. Featuring news, history, the occasional investigative reporting, and of course tips to circumvent said surveillance. Simply put, the goal is to help readers effectively navigate society’s ever changing private and public surveillance states as well as clearly understand how they affect all populations and demographics.
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Let’s get on the same page. What exactly do I mean by ‘surveillance’?
When I wrote my first draft of this post, I argued that most people when they hear the word “surveillance” likely conjure up images of some government agency, whether fictional or not, tapping phone lines and staking out a suspect’s house like in the 007 or Bourne movies. My partner refuted this idea saying that she thought most people would think of Facebook, Google, and other entities monitoring our actions online.
It’s clear that in today’s world, the line between the two is increasingly blurred. Seemingly everything is watching us — our phone, our email inbox, every website we visit, our cell phone provider, even our neighbor’s doorbell. Just last week, I clicked a link in an email about a special offer and that company called within 2 minutes. The dozens, or even hundreds, of private entities we interact with on a daily basis online analyze our behaviors and interactions with their products and leverage it for their benefit.
Government agencies also regularly leverage all this data with controversial subpoenas and warrants. Such controversies include “geofence warrants”, the practice asking for a list of cellular devices within a certain radius of a crime scene. Other controversial practices include coercing neighbors to constantly share their security camera footage with police even without suspicion of a crime.
Are we living in a world of mass surveillance? To put it simply, yes. Driven by the enormous economic — perhaps simultaneously altruistic — ambitions of tech-tycoons collecting and storing the personal data of all those who touch the internet and coupled with the systemic corruption of our criminal justice system making nearly all that data easily obtainable by law enforcement. Yes, mass surveillance is here.
As Harvard University Professor Emerita and social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff states, “ . . we’ve begun to understand that ‘privacy’ policies are actually surveillance policies.”
Who am I?
I’m Ethan Gregory Dodge, a cyber security engineer by trade and storyteller by passion. I began reporting for my high school newspaper writing pieces about the school’s class and social divide. In college I gave up an assistant editor position on the paper for a role with the student government, but still occasionally wrote for the publication.
I went on to earn a degree in information technology and began working as a cyber security analyst. It wasn’t until 2016 when I helped launch Mormon Leaks, which later evolved into Truth & Transparency, that my skills for technology and passion for reporting collided. Our work was featured and cited in publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, the Salt Lake Tribune, Gizmodo, and many local media outlets.
Surveillance Today is the second iteration of leveraging both my technical abilities and love of a raw, authentic life story to help raise public awareness and invoke positive change.
Legal and Ethics
I strive to adhere to the Society of Professional Journalist Code of Ethics. However, note that the code itself recognizes that it’s not a “set of rules, rather a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide”.
For example, it is fact that policing, and thus police surveillance, disproportionately and wrongly targets marginalized communities, especially non-white individuals. Thus, I refuse to “[support] the open and civil exchange of views” that ignore this fact or otherwise deny the humanity of those communities.
As such, I unapologetically espouse the same view as Buzzfeed News and “firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women's rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides.” I would also add the rights and equality of disabled persons to this group.
I believe strongly that these views and my dedication to fact-based, ethical reporting are not at odds.
I am the founder of the Citizens Privacy Coalition of Santa Clara County. We educate local activists in anti-surveillance techniques, investigate local law enforcement to understand their surveillance tactics, and work with local legislators to end harmful surveillance practices.
In fact, I created Surveillance Today as a medium for me to disseminate my research required of my activism to the wider public. If, on the surface, you see this as a conflict of interest, the fact of the matter is that mass surveillance has damaged people’s lives, and I feel that I am in a position to help my community, so I do.
I feel strongly that I can both help minimize this damage and provide a fair perspective in my reporting. That said, if I feel there is a conflict of interest with a particular story, I will indicate as such.
I am not an Attorney
While Surveillance Today often covers legal topics, the content should not be mistaken as legal advice. I am not a licensed attorney. If you are in trouble or otherwise seeking official legal advice on topics covered here, I urge you to reach out to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, your local ACLU affiliate, Access Now, the Civil Liberties Defense Center, or your individual attorney.