“In the 1600s a series of civilization-threatening plague epidemics gave birth to one of the most heavy-handed surveillance states in the Western world,” writes Annie Jacobsen in First Platoon. “In order to impose the rule of law, the government ordered the full-scale cataloging of people.” You felt like you were being watched because you were, especially by your neighbors.
Historian Michel Foucault draws the parallel between the surveillance state during the plague, in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, and a prison called the Panopticon or “all seeing.” It was a circular prison with a guard tower in the middle from which a single guard could observe the prisoners—but where they couldn’t see him. They felt like they were constantly watched, creating a fear that produced obedience.
In Pandemic, you learn about the power of an aerostat used in Afghanistan to follow soldiers and insurgents on the ground and how problems with misidentification can and, in the end, do lead to catastrophic consequences. You see up close the power those at the top wield over the troops doing the dirty work on the ground—like pieces on a chessboard. One piece of the platoon is the COIST (Company Intelligence Support Team member), who collects fingerprints and other biometrics. (There’s been more information gathered on 25 million Afghans than we’ll ever need).
In First Platoon, you learn about how the origin of the fingerprint in fighting crime and how the FBI has more fingerprints than any other agency in the world gathered on criminals and suspects. In Afghanistan, the FBI helped train the military in fingerprint gathering along with other biometrics. But unlike the FBI work at home used on suspects, this information was gathered on everyone the troops encountered, not just insurgents. Maybe that’s OK on the battlefield, but what about in your neck of the woods?
The technology is growing at the speed of science fiction, faster than your Fourth Amendment rights. Technology can be used against you before you even commit a crime just by using A.I. and analysis of your patterns to examine how you live your life. And as we learn in the book, mistakes happen, like what almost happened to the guy in the purple hat.
Fast forward to today, where we have our National Guard troops in Washington, D.C., vetted for political views, and the higher-ups turning the place into a military state. To protect whom? You and me? Hardly. Meanwhile, this military tech is being used in cities like Baltimore and L.A. What’s to keep them out of your backyard, especially if you live in a red state?
Action Line: The tech and intelligence from Afghanistan are being shared at home in the U.S. between the military and the FBI. What could possibly go wrong in a pandemic? Welcome to our virtual Panopticon.
Read more in Pandemic Creates Virtual Panopticon.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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