The 1% Hypothesis of Mass Surveillance

Published on April 13, 2015 (↻ February 5, 2024), filed under (RSS feed for all categories).

This post is outdated.

A few weeks back I read this security article, I don’t recall where, about how it’s odd that no one has ever suspected and detected anything related to all that mass surveillance we learned about through Edward Snowden. In particular, physical manipulation of devices, and devices phoning home.

While that article circled around some specific security matters, it reminded me of that low probability suspicion of what if—what if—what the leaks entailed wasn’t entirely true? Why did indeed no one ever notice anything of this apparently vast, aggressive, criminal super-surveillance? Why does by now almost everything we know about global spying come from Edward Snowden?

What if there is no mass surveillance to the extent we got to believe?

What if, rather, the revelations were a test to a) gauge how the public would react, with enough room to plausibly deny if things got out of hand, and b) prepare the stage for more invasive measures, now that everyone got used to the idea of unwarranted global surveillance?

a), the test, we pretty clearly failed, no matter that media effectively silenced some protests by barely reporting on them. We have not yet done nearly enough to hold back our governments; they shouldn’t be our governments anymore if we had done enough. (Surveillance is undemocratic.)

b), preparation, is actually happening then. Our governments appear to expand their surveillance operations. There was no new legislation in the U.S. granting people their rights, and curtailing intelligence; there are trends to up the ante. The other Five Eyes countries don’t cut back, either—quite the contrary. Germany, also, is repeatedly trying to overpower E.U. legislation so to store data for longer, and to further—not limit—BND authority.

This 1% hypothesis, as I’ll call it here, as unlikely as it must look given the heaps of Snowden evidence and Five Eyes government admissions, fits a page of the propaganda and research book that some institutions have been working on for more than a hundred years. Staging of dramatic events is something Bernays and Lippmann have promoted at the beginning of the last century, false flag attacks appear common, and there are a good number of rather freaky things some of our countries have been purported to test.

Yet this is a thought experiment. Instead of downplaying the surveillance revelations by underestimating and doubting them, the hypothesis would amplify maliciousness, intransparency, and unaccountability of our governments. I’m not saying this is what has been happening; I’m not implying anything about my own beliefs, either (I’m a philosopher, and we ask questions). The only thing to take out of this is that in investigations of world affairs, which are usually criminal investigations, we should perhaps duly look into every corner at least once.

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!