In addition to there being, again, no clear legal authorization for this, it is highly debatable whether the aforementioned groups should be included, far and beyond any abstract objections, or whether this would constitute the illegal use of personal data.
Data security expert Simson Garfinkel cautioned about this issue more than a decade ago, saying that this type of intrusion was uncivilized and should not be tolerated in a constitutional democracy, as it leads to prejudice. Behind this intimidatory manipulation of personal data is the implicit threat that the authorities can secretly use and control your personal information as and when they see fit at any point in the future, which again smacks of authoritarianism.
Renowned US investigative journalist Edwin Black has written extensively about the historical lessons that should be drawn from the way the Nazi regime used information technologies available to them at the time to locate Jews and send them to concentration camps, and how the East German Stasi, under its guiding principle of Wir sind Uberall — we are everywhere — was so successful in its stated endeavor. At one point the East German government had secret files on 6 million of its people, a full one-third of the country’s population at the time, allowing the Stasi to amass vast — and completely unsupervised — records on its populace.
More recent examples include the administration of former US president George W. Bush, which Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith termed the “terror presidency” for abusing executive branch powers to set up a range of databanks in the name of “the fight against terrorism” to control intelligence in the US and abroad. These records have only grown in scale since US President Barack Obama came into office.
In his book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State, US journalist Glenn Greenwald offers a more detailed insight on the issue, in the light of the Snowden affair. Is it possible that we can learn nothing from these international examples, all of which have occurred in living memory? Is the information state not something we should feel wary of?
Liu Ching-yi is a professor in the College of Social Sciences at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Paul Cooper