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Surveillance | Society | Culture


Edited By Florian Zappe and Andrew S. Gross

What only a few decades ago would have been considered a totalitarian nightmare seems to have become reality: Surveillance practices and technologies have infiltrated all aspects of our lives, forcing us to reconsider established notions of privacy, subjectivity, and the status of the individual in society. The United States is central to contemporary concerns about surveillance. American companies are at the forefront of developing surveillance technologies; and government agencies, in the name of security and law and order, are monitoring our words and actions more than ever before. This book brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to explore the implications of what many consider to be a far-reaching social, political, and cultural transformation.

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On October 11, 1986, the German daily die tageszeitung ran a short article entitled “No Such Agency,” written by the iconic media theorist Friedrich Kittler. Initially commissioned as a review of the German translation of James Bamford’s investigative bestseller Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America’s Most Secret Intelligence Organization (1982), Kittler’s text provided a concise yet striking reflection about the impact of the digital revolution—still in its infancy at that time—on the everyday practices of the intelligence business. With unabashed fascination, Kittler describes the National Security Agency, then largely obscure to the general public, as a highly efficient cloak-and-dagger force operating in the shadow of smaller but more glamorous agencies:

The National Security Agency—the USA’s surveillance institution—is the only one among all government agencies and intelligence service bureaucracies enjoying the right to deny its own existence. A secret squared prevents information squared, as president Truman decreed in 1952. ‘No Such Agency’ or ‘Never Say Anything’ are just two of the decryptions of the acronym NSA (not lacking intra-agency humor).

An organisation with 70,000 people surveilling—cautiously estimated—approximately every thousandth telecommunication message on the planet with spy satellites or radio relay systems, and using Platform, a network of 52 globally linked computer systems, to automatically decipher, store and evaluate them, leaves public relations to the CIA and its 4000 agents. (Kittler)

Now, thirty years later, in the post-Snowden era, the thought of the NSA monitoring...

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