Overflight, 103

“This, to my thinking, actually represented the great nexus of the Intelligence Community and the tech industry: both are entrenched and unelected powers that pride themselves on maintaining absolute secrecy about their developments. Both believe that they have the solutions for everything, which they never hesitate to unilaterally impose.

Direct engagement, which can be harsh and emotionally draining, simply doesn’t happen that much on the technical side of intelligence, and almost never in computing. There is a depersonalization of experience fostered by the distance of a screen. Peering at life through a window can ultimately abstract us from our actions and limit any meaningful confrontation with their consequences.

Tech people rarely, if ever, have a sense of the broader applications and policy implications of the projects to which they’re assigned.

I was reminded of what is perhaps the fundamental rule of technological progress: if something can be done, it probably will be done, and possibly already has been.

Terrorism, of course, was the stated reason why most of my country’s surveillance programs were implemented, at a time of great fear and opportunism. But it turned out that fear was the true terrorism, perpetrated by a political system that was increasingly willing to use practically any justification to authorize the use of force.

These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.