Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Zygmunt Bauman has explained ‘power’ as ‘the way to manipulate probabilities to increase the likelihood of desirable conduct’. If the ‘powers that see’ are to tweak our behaviour – charting the chances that we’ll believe a particular lie, or purchase a particular brand of corporate injustice to pour on our breakfast cereal – then surely they’ll need data. The entirety of our phone and email records is a good starting point.
From Edward Snowden’s revelations, surveillance appears to be expanding without meaningful limits. Such a pattern jives with what information activist groups have pieced together through years of research, thwarted information requests and occasional leaks from insiders. The scope of data captured from our network communications is staggering, as discussed in our surveillance focus this issue. In addition to getting swept up in the arm of ‘metadata’, UK activists may be handpicked for tracking by secret police, who’ve compiled as many as 9,000 individual profiles on campaigners, explains Kevin Blowe.
While surveillance may feel vast, looming and obscure, it isn’t separate from the other battles we’re fighting. We need to examine the myriad ways the oppressed have been watched and controlled throughout history so we can integrate the fight against surveillance into our existing struggles. Discrimination under the guise of ‘security’ has long been a concern for racial justice activists, who have observed how black and brown communities are targeted for extra monitoring and often violent treatment at the hands of police. As surveillance winds itself even more tightly around other pillars of injustice, from war to wage labour, more of us need to look the issue in the eye.
In a Q&A in this issue, peace activist Medea Benjamin discusses the use of drone technology for both surveillance and international assassinations. Ewa Jasiewicz highlights surveillance as a workers’ issue, speaking to trade unionists who were monitored and blacklisted by construction companies. Anna Minton and Jody Aked explore how a multi‑billion pound industry meets economic deprivation at sites of ‘high security’ social housing. And Elia Zureik traces surveillance through colonial history, from fingerprinting during the British occupation of India to biometrics at modern borders.
Last year, students at Newcastle University fought the planned installation of fingerprint scanners in lecture halls to monitor attendance. The motivation was keeping tabs on international students, reporting their whereabouts to the UK Border Agency. The resistance that emerged brought together students against xenophobia, students concerned with their privacy rights and students interested in defending the university as a public good. Faced with head-spinning webs of injustice like this one, too many of us to count have a vested interest in uniting against surveillance.
Coming together requires that we build trust: the radical antidote to a divisive, fear-mongering ‘security’ state. It requires that we get personal, recognising that surveillance operates not just above us but through us. Being under constant watch insults our dignity, leads us to keep our most important perceptions hidden, makes us suspicious of others, disintegrates the social fabric of which we are a part.
Are there things you wouldn’t talk about in front of your boss? We generally accept that it’s pragmatic to ‘watch what we say’ in the presence of people who have power over us – and could change our lives with a single decision. But where is the unwatched space, where people with power over our lives can’t follow? Personally, I would have to steer clear of my computer, everywhere I use my debit card, and the entire length of the streets just outside my flat, which are lined with cameras. I’m tempted to profess I have nothing to hide, but I won’t.
Instead I’ll reiterate that I don’t consent to being watched by the same powers that are hell-bent on denying me equality and destroying our planet. Indeed, none of us consent to this. It is not possible to say ‘yes’ when we’re not given the choice of ‘maybe’, ‘wait a second’, or ‘no’ – even in these countries we call democracies.
What inventive, subversive, explosive, transcendent possibilities won’t we dream about out loud, when we know our trusted listeners aren’t the only ones listening?
Following the Snowden revelations, many commentators of many different political persuasions were quick to declare the leaked information ‘unsurprising’. In these times, when patriarchy, war, racism and other forms of abuse march on – finding newer, sharper tools to replace their bayonets – it’s not the ‘surprise factor’ that matters. It’s the imagination factor that will lead us out of a world that has been divided, enclosed, padlocked and ‘secured’ so many times over. It’s the solidarity factor that helps us remember we have something in common with the people outside our walls. It’s the courage within us that fades, but crops back up: never easy to predict, let alone intercept.
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns