The debate about governmental surveillance and mass espionage that Edward Snowden’s revelations have started should also be about capitalism, argues Evgeny Morozov in the Financial Times. Because data is becoming the new money. But data isn’t replacing money at all and the debate should not be about capitalism, replies Danny Mekic.
Money, as a medium of exchange, is not being used any less since the advent of the internet and its ‘data grabbers’ like Google and Facebook. On the contrary. It’s not even possible for data to replace money, because data in itself has no value. Value is created from data after gathering it, connecting it, analysing it and putting it to use — in that sense, data is more like oil than like money.
Furthermore, there are more and more companies that successfully deal with drilling for and refining this digital oil, and the result is that the same (private) information shows up in more and more databases. It’s a data paradox. Because the more data there is in the world, the less value can be extracted from it. From that perspective, data is more like shares on the stock market than like money: the more shares there are, the less individual value each share has.
But the fact that data cannot replace money isn’t the reason why the surveillance debate shouldn’t be about capitalism. The debate shouldn’t be about capitalism because capitalism isn’t a necessary precondition for a surveillance state. The ones in power practice mass espionage within different economical and political systems too.
We now also know, thanks to Snowden, that (willingly) giving private information to platforms like Google isn’t a necessary precondition for it either. Even without smartphones and laptops, with the millions of sensors all around the world and in space, connected to speech, facial and other recognition technology, in the end you would still be registered identifiably by the surveillance state.
Still, Morozov is right to say the debate Snowden started is too narrow. What we should be discussing is the real cause of the unjustified, extensive mass espionage the NSA is guilty of: the decaying of the democratic system. As a result of that, we get governments trying to control their people, but becoming increasingly uncontrollable themselves due to a lack of checks and balances. And as a result of that, we lose the freedom to think what we want to think, say what we want to say and be who we want to be. Without ever having chosen for things to be that way. And without knowing if it’s effective. A debate about capitalism will not save us from that.
I wrote this article in reply to Evgeny Morozov’s oped in the FT, The Snowden saga heralds a radical shift in capitalism, and submitted it to the FT.