Noise vs Signal


Noise vs Signal is a form of digital protest against bulk surveillance. Who is opposed to targeted surveillance? No-one sane. But the bulk untargeted surveillance of all digital communications is dangerous, unethical and unconstitutional.

Must we forego use of the internet to avoid surveillance? Perhaps. Must we route all digital traffic through the TOR network and encrypt all communication to experience the web? Possibly. Is the price of Google searches and Facebook posts the selling of our private information to advertisers? Almost definitely. Old-fashioned conversations and physical letters are probably the best, most secure communications we can have; but we should also be able to speak about the kind of internet we want. NvS is an attempt for one day each month (the 21st – in a nod to Edward Snowden) to break the filters. To make it a little harder for the Giant Surveillance Vacuum to suck up, store and process our internet traffic and phone calls.

Most of us trust the majority of government today, including its military, intelligence agencies and institutions. But we must write our laws to be independent of this trust. Anthrax and Sarin are catchwords today – as they should be, but what can stop future filter words including ‘revolution’, ‘Wikileaks’ or ‘encryption’? Ultimately our most effective efforts will be to identify bulk surveillance as illegal. But until then, NvS is a small attempt at direct action.

It’s easy to imagine that the outcome of NvS is a handful of idealistic folk getting put on the NSA watch-list – if they weren’t already there. It’s also likely that the filters would quickly program a workaround. But if not inneffectual, we must acknowledge the potential for NvS to be dangerous. That genuine terrorist activities may go undetected as a result of this protest. But I believe the risk doesn’t outweigh the dangers of a bulk surveillance state. Video cameras in our bedrooms may be justified in the name of the War on Terror – it is up to us to draw our individual lines on what we deem as acceptable surveillance.
I draw mine far from the bulk surveillance state. NvS is for those who feel similarly.

– Niraj Lal

July 2014

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