As for-profit, private sector, sub-contracted “Asset Tracking” (an Orwellian term that masks it’s true meaning – Spying On You) and related “investigatory” companies are being brought to light in the mainstream, it seems useful to share some insight into a day in the life of a subject of such unsavoury attention.
For no longer is the subject of state surveillance the traditional ‘criminal’ stereotype – but in fact regular people. The Persons of Interest are anyone with any access to any kind of information that is of even the vaguest interest to anyone with access to the apparently monolithic state spying apparatus.
Add in two degrees of separation to the “Asset Tracking” – ie., everyone the Person knows and everyone that they know for good measure, and you have everyone from suburban mothers to doctors to fishermen to airhostesses to school Principals getting followed around and having their communications pried into by total strangers.
While it is indeed an issue of immoral and intrusive surveillance, there is more to it. Once targeted by the state, there is an all encompassing psychological warfare as you are systematically conditioned to having the most intimate parts of your life laid open to all and sundry, for them to manipulate and, in some cases, profit from.
No act can be undertaken naturally – from the most banal decisions made in the bathroom to any attempt to have a relationship with another person. The more you are psychologically poked and prodded, the more you are forced to sidestep entrapment efforts, the more exacerbated your mental isolation, living in a world where the only person you can truly rely upon is yourself.
Decisions you make have complex and far-reaching consequences, not just for yourself but for the numerous people who knowingly or unknowingly will be affected by any choice you do make, and you live with the constant guilt of the ways in which you are affecting other people’s lives without ever intending to.
Some have described being the victim of such comprehensive intrusion and manipulation as ‘torture’ and suggested it is an issue for the U.N. to investigate.
I don’t personally feel qualified to make such a claim because being inside of it makes it impossible to have the level of detachment required to reduce it to a single blanket statement.
However I do innately know that the following daily thought processes are completely tragic and unnatural, and that humankind cannot continue like this.
Without further adieu: The Diary of a Person of Interest
4.30am – 6.30am: this is the worst time of the day. The entire neighbourhood is asleep but your neighbour’s dogs bark incessantly and you get to listen to the sounds of garage doors scraping and cars that shouldn’t be going anywhere at that time going nonetheless. It pays to be asleep between these hours.
7.30am: Awake on the couch where you slept fully clothed so that there wouldn’t be more footage of you walking around your house naked. The morning, which is structured around beautiful, happy and mostly oblivious children, is the easiest time to forget that you have not enjoyed any domestic privacy for nearly three years. The shrieks to get up, eat breakfast and hurry off out the door are normal morning sounds and familiar to the point of comfortable.
8.30am: It is time to go and you grab your keys, already looking at the cul de sac for the car that will leave ahead of you, and then the other car which will return behind you again after you have dropped the children at school. These cars, and many more, have been trailing you for years now and were a source of great mystery prior to seeing the documentary ‘Operation 8‘ on NZ on Screen and finally clicking as to what was taking place. Funnily enough, back at the beginning, when you were put in the hotseat via Skype to answer 10 fast questions from a total stranger, one of them was whether you knew any of the Urewera 4. You didn’t. You had never been an activist or an organiser or an independent journalist nor had any idea the surveillance state existed let alone that you’d one day be targeted by it. Now, after three years of its unwelcome, immoral attentions, you not only know some of them but are represented by their lawyer. In a funny way the persecution and oppression heaped upon you drive you to the very places the state claims to not want you to go, and results in the very friendships being established that they ostensibly don’t want you to have.
9.30am: one of your oldest and best friends in the world has messaged you on Facebook. She misses you and wants to chat. You’ve known her since you were in your early teens and always had a heartfelt connection to her. She is one of the best people you know. But you are scared to respond to her because her husband (who she married many years later) works for the US military. Your very friendship, which you have cherished so much, is now a potential danger to her and also to yourself. What will your activist and media friends and colleagues think of you being friends with someone connected to the military industrial complex? What will your friend and her husband’s facebook friends think of them being connected to a new media activist? Will they and everyone they know end up being spied on just because you and she infrequently profess your love and gratitude for each other’s existence? Is that grounds alone for equal intrusions upon her life, the very fact of the connection? Will your government decide that you must be a U.S. plant because one of your best friends is American? Will they trawl back through your completely innocuous past travels and decide that there must be more to it than you doing your O.E.? The questions and implications are endless, and all because she loves you and wants to say hello.
10.30am: you are procrastinating now because you don’t want to do what you should be doing. Crafting business plans for new ventures is no fun when your intellectual property will be read and studied by your government and perhaps others, long before you’ve even had a chance to submit it to the rest of your team members. The complete absence of secure, private communications has consistently led to your ideas and work being stolen for the profit of others, and you are not eager to repeat the experience. Building and creating something when others already have the blueprints is a virtually impossible endeavour. Any alliances you form or opportunities you pursue will be interfered with, be it before during or after your undertaking. Anything of value will be extracted and siphoned off and you just don’t have the energy to try to convince others who are understandably reluctant, of what is possible. While encryption offers some measure of hope in terms of whittling down the number of people with the capacity to penetrate the communications, the cold harsh reality of any hardware you ever own being physically compromised plus the constant monitoring and piggy-backing of all your digital work means that innovation can come only in short bursts and in open source environments with an equal level playing field. Peer to peer is no longer desirable when it is is peer to peer with a man in the middle. Has to be all or nothing and you are relatively content with little to nothing and thus accept the stifling of your full potential.
11.30am: As do many, you both relish and dread social media. As amazing a tool for social change as it has been – as responsible for many of your successes as it has been – it’s true owners have been increasingly asserting their control over it to the extent that nothing can be taken at face value. Strange and beautiful messages intertwine and you are never sure of the true source. Nasty, acerbic regurgitated commentary of your daily struggles appears, alongside gloating or self-important, stuffy rhetoric letting slip key intimacies gained from covertly obtained knowledge of your physical environment and admonishing you. Occasionally, there are outright death threats. The macabre and the vicarious combine and the overall feeling is one of dirtiness, the slime of the negative energy. There are fragments of light but fewer and so distant the sparkle is like a mirage. When everything you see through a screen is malleable – transferable, delayable, manipulable – nothing can be certain, neither the light nor the dark or whether they in fact come from the same source. Messages sent are not necessarily messages received and as the manipulation of your reality is total very little, if anything, can be taken for granted; certainly not at face value. Your entire online experience is tailored and not just for advertising purposes. Your life defined by algorithms that are constantly evolving, by means outside your reach and to ends other than your own. Your every online second is now an opportunity to be misconstrued, to be entrapped, to be monitored. The desire to exercise the human right to communication is now a liability rather than a privilege.
12.30pm: You are hungry but you are just thinking about love again. Day-dreaming. Pining. Love moves you. This has long been determined and is the pinnacle of your psychological profile. The only thing they have found that is guaranteed to make you act is love. For your thoughts are not merely enough. The leeching of your ideas just a value-add to the targeting of you. The real intention is to make you act. To trigger you, provoke you, guide you in the direction they want you to go. For they cannot prosecute a thought – they cannot prosecute a speech. But they can prosecute an act. Where they have forced others to act to their own detriment, the punishment has been swift. Where they have not been able to, the ‘torture’ is prolonged. The surveillance spans years. Way back at the beginning you naievely thought all of this would end up on record. That it was being collected for the purposes of a judge and a jury. As the months under investigation became years, you finally realised – noone is going to give this footage to a judge. Noone is going to film you in your bathroom and then put that on a court record. The vast majority of the surveillance is not collected on the behalf of a court, it is collected for the sole benefit of the financier – whether that be a private funder or the state. These countless intrusions are not for an investigation at all. They are for a very specific set of reasons and it seems, may well now span the entire remainder of your life. Your motivations, once gleaned, are monopolised upon. Your desires are pinpointed and then tantalisingly dangled in front of you – the proverbial carrot. The deal with the devil is to get what you want by giving him what he wants and then hoping he doesn’t reneg on the bargain after the fact. It is a dangerous game, a slippery slope. Your innocent dreams of love and companionship are the weakness by which you are routinely attacked and there are seemingly no limits to what can be done to influence and ultimately control your romantic situation. For the watchers do not just watch – they insert themselves into your life in as many capacities as possible, be it work or social, familial or via acquaintances and friends of friends. They will hit on you in a bar; they will befriend your friends under false pretences, for the sole motivation of getting close enough to you to gain influence or insight. They are Rob Gilchrist. They are Sabu. They will impersonate people you have known for nearly a decade, and with great dedication and preparation, lull you into a false sense of security so that you come to value a relationship which does not exist. Why? So that you will act, and so that they can capture that act, and then wield it against you. Even if it is an act of love, an intimacy, that exists only as a fruit of their deception and manipulation. They falsely believe recording such acts empowers them. In fact, they are holding the evidence of their own despicable natures and dastardly undertakings, in their own hands. What they feel is their victory, in fact exposes them, and not you. This is a valuable insight and you soon learn to own the mistakes, the humiliations, while leaving the shame of them to the perpetrators; the tarnish where it belongs.
1.30pm: Done with psychoanalysing and re-psychoanalyzing every potentiality and its outcome, there is little more than an hour left to do anything worthwhile. Thus the mundane and safe becomes a warm and pleasant coccoon. The actions for which you need not be concerned by hidden strings pulling, manipulated by the hands of hidden puppetmasters. Dishes become a pleasure. Vaccuuming, a release. You dare not check the mail – you have long since lost interest in it as it so often failed to arrive at all and when it did, looked like mice had been eating the corners. You try to have everything redirected just so that you no longer have to be confronted with the cold reality of the intrusions. Harder to escape the physical intrusions. From the first burglary where nothing was stolen and your bathroom window was smashed on the inside, to the little holes that appear in your newly-refinished ceiling. The drill marks in the doorways. The cracks in the top corners of mirrors, of photo-frames. The worn lining in the tops of the doors of your near-new car. The underwear drawer full of underwear torn to the hip. The precious watch from your grandmother; an heirloom, smashed, with its face missing. The brand new 4-pack of socks on top of your dresser that disappears while you are out, with only a dirty pair of used men’s socks left in its place. The roof patch that is removed as soon as the workmen replace it there. The car tyres that somehow periodically get road spikes embedded in them. The oil cap that conveniently disappears into thin air. Yes, it is not just the surveillance, it is the holistic sabotage, the psychological warfare, that is the true burden of the Person of Interest.
3:00pm: Briefly life returns to the normal chaos of excitable children and domestic routine. Wondering what to have for dinner brings its own welcome respite, as does visits and extra-curricular activities. You become grateful for the most mundane mechanics of the suburban Matrix, which now seem a luxury. Although you are well-aware you are already in a jail cell and have been for years – albeit a more nicely appointed jail cell than the traditional idea of one – any lapse in external interference is gratefully received, with the relief of a dog that has ceased being whipped, even if only momentarily.
5.30pm: You are long since accustomed to the strange, uncomfortable or vacant looks of those who once held you in normal regard. Well aware that part of the attack on your character and person is for others to spread gossip and rumours, or approach those on the periphery and encourage them to turn their scorn upon you for whatever reason, be it real or manufactured. You are used to not being able to answer the most basic questions; of never really knowing what does or doesn’t have hidden meaning, or in what way you will be judged for your honesty. The most perfunctory answers and social norms seem inherently dishonest. The urge, the driving force to state things as they are under any cirumstance, always balanced against perceived self-interest, out of sheer necessity. For if you do not watch your own back, who will? Who better than you understands what you are going through?
8.00pm: Thanks to immoral legislation and the ambivalence of the state towards the individual privacies of Persons of Interest, strangers will watch you read to your children tonight. Just as they watched you play the piano, reviewed what songs you looked at on You Tube and scoffed as you chased a mouse around the kitchen, trying to humanely catch it. Your family time is undertaken in the manner of The Truman Show – centerpieces to the analysis and amusement of others. Those who fashion themselves Gods but are not worthy of the title. Once all is again quiet, you will relegate yourself back to the couch and wonder to whom you can reach out – to whom your silent pleas will be answered. By your friends? By your enemies? Or are they one and the same? Too many times you have been made promises, too many times you have made promises and been prevented from keeping them. The great spiral of the unknown makes you aware that the tiny fragments you do know and can hold on to are such insignificant pieces of the puzzle that you are prevented from ever truly being the architect of your own destiny. Instead you must rock, roll, tumble with the blows, take them as they come, and find solitude and safety only in your dreams.
[This post was live-blogged and is now complete. Thank you for watching.]
[UPDATE: September 2016: nearly two years after being written, this piece has become a documentary of the same name: “Diary of a Person of Interest” which is available for free on Vimeo.com and also on You Tube. Please watch it and share it! Documentary release notes are here at this pastebin link. Thank you!]
Written by Suzie Dawson
Official Website: Suzi3d.com
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