‘The Stasi had a file on everybody’ was once a common trope used to favourably compare the ‘free’ West to oppressive Soviet societies. It has since become an emblem of the threat to privacy that an overreaching security state will embody. When Edward Snowden exposed the surveillance apparatus maintained by the US and its partners, it made the Stasi look like rank amateurs. East German spies had only managed to fill filing cabinets in one small office building in Berlin. The amount of floorspace required to hold the NSA data (if stored in like-for-like printed files) would cover mainland Europe. News cycles obscure history, creating isolated media ‘events’ from which our reactions can be guided for carefully designated periods of time. The most advanced and, let’s remember, ongoing system of surveillance in history becomes forgotten, only to be referenced in an occasional throwaway final sentence whenever an article about US relations is published. The proliferation of surveillance has operated in tandem with technological development.
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