Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Information Industrial Complex

corbettreport |  So what is the problem with this? As Ike explained:

“Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

Here again the warning is of fascism. But instead of the military-industrial fascism that dominated so much of the 20th century, he was describing here a new fascistic paradigm that was but barely visible at the time that he gave his address: a scientific-technological one. Once again, the threat is that the industry that grows up around this government-sponsored activity will, just like the military-industrial complex, begin to take over and shape the actions of that same government. In this case, the warning is not one of bombs and bullets but bits and bytes, not tanks and fighter jets but hard drives and routers. Today we know this new fascism by its innocuous sounding title “Big Data,” but in keeping with the spirit of Eisenhower’s remarks, perhaps it would be more fitting to call it the “information-industrial complex.”

The concept of an information-industrial complex holds equally explanatory power for our current day and age as the military-industrial complex hypothesis held in Eisenhower’s time.
Why is a company like Google going to such lengths to capture, track and database all information on the planet?

The information-industrial complex.

Why were all major telecom providers and internet service providers mandated by federal law to hardwire in back door access to American intelligence agencies for the purpose of spying on all electronic communications?

The information-industrial complex.

Why would government after government around the world target encryption as a key threat to their national security, and why would banker after banker call for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to be banned even as they plan to set up their own, central bank-administered digital currencies?
The information-industrial complex.

The effects of this synthesis are more and more felt in our everyday lives. Every single day hundreds of millions of people around the world are interfacing with Microsoft software or Apple hardware or Amazon cloud services running on chips and processors supplied by Intel or other Silicon Valley stalwarts. Google has become so ubiquitous that its very name has become a verb meaning “to search for something on the internet.” The 21st century version of the American dream is encapsulated in the story of Mark Zuckerberg, a typical Harvard whizkid whose atypical rise to the status of multi-billionaire was enabled by a social networking tool by the name of “Facebook” that he developed.

But how many people know the flip side of this coin, the one that demonstrates the pervasive government influence in shaping and directing these companies’ rise to success, and the companies’ efforts to aid the government in collecting data on its own citizens? How many know, for instance, that Google has a publicly acknowledged relationship with the NSA? Or that a federal judge has ruled that the public does not have the right to know the details of that relationship? Or that Google Earth was originally the brainchild of Keyhole Inc., a company that was set up by the CIA’s own venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, using satellite data harvested from government “Keyhole” class reconnaissance satellites? Or that the former CEO of In-Q-Tel, Gilman Louie, sat on the board of the National Venture Capital Association with Jim Breyer, head of Accel Partners, who provided 12 million dollars of seed money for Facebook? Or that in 1999, a back door for NSA access was discovered in Microsoft’s Windows operating system source code? Or that Apple founder Steve Jobs was granted security clearance by the Department of Defense for still-undisclosed reasons while heading Pixar in 1988, as was the former head of AT&T and numerous others in the tech industry?

The connections between the IT world and the government’s military and intelligence apparatus run deep. In fact, the development of the IT industry is intimately intertwined with the US Air Force, the Department of Defense and its various branches (including, famously, DARPA), and, of course, the CIA. A cursory glance at the history of the rise of companies like Mitre Corporation, Oracle, and other household electronics and software firms should suffice to expose the extent of these relations, and the existence of what we might dub an “information-industrial complex.”

But what does this mean? What are the ramifications of such a relationship?