Drones Over There, Total Surveillance Over Here
by Saskia Sassen – February 19, 2013
The big story buried in all the commentary about the US government’s drone policy is that the old algorithm of the liberal state no longer works. Focusing on drones is almost a distraction, if it weren’t for the number of men, women and children they have killed in only a few years. What we should focus on is the deeper condition that enables the drone policy, and so much more, and that is the sharp increase in unaccountable executive power, no matter what party is in power.
The 1960s and the 1970s saw the making of laws that called for the executive branch of government to be more responsive to basic principles of a division of power and accountability to citizens. Many of its owners were curtailed by the legislative. With Reagan, Clinton and especially Bush-Cheney, many of these laws were violated under the claim of a state of exception due to the “War on Terror”.
What we are facing is a profound degradation of the liberal state. Drone killings and unlawful imprisonment are at one end of that spectrum of degradation, and the rise of the power, economic destructions and unaccountability of the financial sector are at the other end.
The massive surveillance apparatus built up over the last 10 years is the domestic companion of the overseas drone killings. It is one outcome of this deep decay of the liberal state. While much is not known about either, we know enough to recognise its potential for enormous abuse. What is known is that there are at least10,000 buildings across the US, with a massive concentration in Washington, DC, engaged in ongoing surveillance of all of us residing in the territory of the US. Surveillance and counter-terrorism activities employ about one million professionals with top level secret clearance. One estimate has it that every day over two billion emails are tracked. And on and on along these lines.
The basic logic of such a surveillance system is that for our security as citizens we are all being surveilled, or potentially so. That is to say, the logic of the system is that we must all be considered suspect in a first step in order to ensure our safety. Who, then, have we the citizens become, or turned into? Are we the new colonials?
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