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What does the Snowden revelation reveal about the world’s intelligence communities?

What does the Snowden revelation reveal about the world’s intelligence communities?

Guiding Questions


  1. Risto Kunelius and Adrienne Russell, “Surveillance Scandals and the Systemic Crisis of the Public,” Routledge Companion to Media and Scandal


If you are unfamiliar with the NSA scandal based on Snowden revelations, retrieve an online news article or two and find out how it began and evolved and with what consequences.


What do the authors mean when they say that the NSA scandal and the Cambridge Analytica – Facebook scandals “go beyond particular incidents, individuals, and organizations that have “scandalously” violated legal or moral boundaries”? (p. 295) To elaborate it a bit further, when discussing differences between surveillance scandals and other scandals, the authors propose that “rather than merely pointing out breaches of norms and rules, which would demand repair, the consequent debate on surveillance scandals suggests a heightened moment of crisis in systemic legitimacy” (p. 297). How so? What do the authors mean by “go[ing] beyond the moral dynamics of scandals” (p. 297)?


What does the Snowden revelation reveal about the world’s intelligence communities? In what ways have the security and intelligence agencies been empowered in public discourses? (p. 298)


What does the Snowden revelation reveal about the political elites / the democratic state and how does it call into question the notion of political representation? (pp. 298-299)


How do tech companies represent themselves as protector of their customers against the government? How are the tech companies centrally implicated in surveillance scandals? (pp. 299-300)


Ideally what role should journalism play in the ongoing debates and controversies over surveillance, privacy and transparency? However, according to the authors, “the new realities of corporate and government spying significantly influence [journalists’] position among other social and political institutions” (p. 300). In what ways is journalism hampered in this age of surveillance?


The authors conclude that “the concept of media and political scandals is inadequate to grasp fully what is at stake because scandal underscores a departure from the rules rather than, is the case with surveillance, a breakdown in the structures that support those rules and thus the rules themselves” (p. 301). What do they mean by scandal as “a departure” and scandal as “a breakdown”? Would this claim be applicable to other kinds of scandal? Provide examples.


Surveillance scandals can be seen as part of a broader cultural contestation and shift. What opportunities and challenges do they present for the future of democracy?





  1. Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power


How does Zuboff describe the relationship between Google, users, and advertisers in the framework of surveillance capitalism? (pp. 94-95)

What is machine intelligence and how is it central to Google’s “manufacturing process” (p. 95)?

What products does Google sell and how is the quality of such products evaluated? (p. 96)

Read the illustration of behavioural surplus on p. 97. What does it tell you about Google and other similar high-tech companies? What does surveillance mean in this context?


Google represents a form of market power that “is protected by moats of secrecy, indecipherability, and expertise” (p. 100) and it does not like transparency that would shed light on its secret operations. To fend off challenges from outside, it builds “a moat around the castle” by manufacturing a consensus or collective agreement, which explain why potential surveillance scandals involving Google are almost always extinguished in the stage of latency and rarely move into that of activation.


First, Google claimed that their businesses are not to be restrained by existing laws. How do they make such a rhetorical move?  How is the claim about the lawless space translated into their freedom to conduct surveillance and harvesting of personal data? (pp. 104-105)


The second protective layer is the dominant ideology of neoliberalism and the emphasis on self-regulation of businesses (as opposed to government regulation). The author describes the neoliberal ideology as “a windfall” for Google and similar corporations (p. 108). How has the neoliberal ideology influenced judicial interpretations of the First Amendment and how has Google used the rhetoric of freedom of speech and manipulated the constitution to defend its operations? (pp. 109-110) How does Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 provide Google with an unjustified layer of protection? (110-112)


The third condition and layer of protection is the political and social climate in the post 9/11 years that gravitated towards more surveillance at the expense of privacy. For examples of how the terrorist attacks empowered intelligence agencies, see page 114. How did Google benefit from the “state of exception” in the post-9/11 years? (pp. 115-121)


In addition to these efforts to shape public and governmental opinions, Google has undertaken very specific measures to build “fortifications” that deflect public and regulatory attention from its core operations so as to protect its surveillance kingdom. What are they and how do they help you understand the rise and institutionalization of surveillance practices in the digital era without it encountering much resistance (for example in the form of scandals)? (pp. 122-127)






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