The “Dataddiction” of America’s Spies: “No Detox at the Data Center … You’re High All the Time”
While Edward Snowden’s revelations have made Americans aware of mass spying by the NSA, there has been very little discussion of the psychology behind mass surveillance.
Senior NSA executive Thomas Drake explained to Washington’s Blog the little-known psychology of workers at NSA who conduct mass surveillance.
THOMAS DRAKE: Information is power, and the government is addicted to data. They have to have their daily “data fix”, and they’re “mainlining” who we are.
I know it’s seductive psychologically: “I have all of this evidence. It doesn’t matter what the source is, and whether it’s sourced from intelligence. Because I’m going to use it for other purposes.”
Not only can you not get enough of it, but you have to keep what you have. You just “never” get rid of it.
And here’s the other dynamic which I’m intimately familiar with, given my technical background. The cost for processing and storing information is – for all practical purposes – essentially approaching zero.
I understand the seductive psychology behind surveillance. You’re a nameless face behind a screen somewhere (or you don’t even need a screen anymore). And all this stuff keeps pouring in about just about everything and everybody.
[I know from the cold war spying days,] It’s hard to separate yourself from that type of habit.
In the digital space, you’re “data drug” habit goes exponential, because there’s just so much. You can mainline this all day long.
To me, there’s a psychology that’s not often written about: What happens when you have this much reach and power, and constraints of law and even policy simply fade into the woodwork.
Because you’re already in a secret world, and “let’s just do a little query…”
Which is made worse by the fact that you can’t get enough, there’s never enough, and there’s more coming. It’s never like it ends one day and you get to go on a fast …
WASHINGTON’S BLOG: We won, it’s over …
THOMAS DRAKE: There’s no detox at the data center …. You’re high all the time. Because you’re plugged in. It’s now 24/7. There’s no relief from the addiction.
I call it the “Dataddiction”.