War in Europe … and the threat from data

Times are changing quickly

Yesterday, in the early morning of February 24, 2022, the unimaginable has happened. There is war in Europe. Regardless of political and historical backgrounds and causes one thing is undeniable: There will be no winners. But there will be many victims, and these will be those with no interest in nor responsibility to bare for this war.

We cannot estimate what consequences, damages and harm this aggressive confrontation will cause and how long the war will last. But one thing once again becomes obvious: Nothing is for sure, there will always be changes, which are unexpected and come rapidly.

Nothing is predictable

Even if the outcome of this situation is not clear, we must expect everything. Unfortunately, history has showns us repeatedly that there are no guarantees for peace and that we might suddenly find ourselves in circumstances we cannot control.

Again and again I have heard people tell me with full confidence, that there will never again be a time similar to that of National Socialism, which was the beginning of World War II in 1939 ( Brockhaus, Zweiter Weltkrieg. http://brockhaus.de/ecs/enzy/article/zweiter-weltkrieg (aufgerufen am 2022-02-28)).

The danger behind the danger

In the past particular population groups and ethnicities were suppressed and aggressively attacked. Edward Snowden writes the following in his book „Permanent Records“: „The Nazi German census of 1939 took on a similar statistical project, but with the assistance of computer technology. It set out to count the Reich’s population in order to control it and to purge it—mainly of Jews and Roma—before exerting its murderous efforts on populations beyond its borders. To effect this, the Reich partnered with Dehomag, a German subsidiary of the American IBM, which owned the patent to the punch card tabulator, a sort of analog computer that counted holes punched into cards.“ (Snowden, Edward J. Permanent Record, 2019, eBook epub, Pos. 170).

The technology is much more powerful today. Darren Byler points out in his book „In the Camps – Life in China’s Hig-Tech Penal Colony“. Blyer describes, how the Chinese government is using modern technologies to protect itself from terrorism. Among other things he states: „The digital surveillance and enclosure system […] turned smartphones into tracking devices. […] which gave […] state authorities the ability to watch and control movements and behavior in inceasingly ways.“ (BYLER, DARREN. IN THE CAMPS: Stories from China’s High-Tech Penal Colony. S.l.: ATLANTIC BOOKS, 2022, Page 40).

Furthermore Byler reported on the establishment of a system named „safe city“ which was set up in the county seat Shawan. The aim of the system is to register individuals. The police will be automatically informed about all movements of people registered on the watch list. The system, at least in the planned expansion stage, will have a face detection and will collect all data from social media and analyse financial behaviour, driving behaviour etc.(p. 41f.)

As described before, according to the Chinese government, the system is used to fight against terrorism. But the use of a VPN service alone is classified as a illegal web activity and can result in detention (p. 2ff).

Firmin DeBrabander writes in his book „Life after privacy“: „Or your data is simply harvested by corporate and government entities, eager to learn every iota of information about you; they are busy concocting ingenious ways to extract this data, and infer key details about your life – which they then use in ways we can hardly fathom.“ (DeBrabander, Firmin. Life after privacy: reclaiming democracy in a surveillance society. Cambridge, United Kingdom; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2020, Seite vii).

When a government authority gains access to mass data, it has the ability to identify and analyse every ethnic group, every attitudes of a single person or every social behaviour. Every „like“ given by us in social media, every video, we watch, every communication with other persons can be analysed and evaluated. So it is easy for an aggressor to identify non desired target groups and attack them.

Conclusion

Expressing oneself in social media, whether in a political, social or other way, results in permanently stored and can be evaluated. The same applies to electronic communication via messenger or other electronic applications. Not to mention video surveillance, data collection by cars and satellites.

All this should show us that our handling of data has consequences at some point and that we can suffer from these consequences.

Of course the question arisesd, whether it is better never to express oneself. But it is not a solution to always be quiet and let things run their way. No, we must have our opinion. We have to represent values and we must stand by them. But we should always be aware of the consequences and we have to consider, in what context and with what aims we leave tracks of data and the risks we accept in return.