Domestic Surveillance:

Amazon Echo and the Dark Side of Connectivity

Would heavier levels of state surveillance have prevented the recent terrorist attacks across Europe? Probably not: in almost every terrorist attack since 9/11 the individuals were already known to intelligence agencies.

However, experts warn that — in the name of security — the Trump presidency is set to tip the balance towards extreme levels of surveillance in ways that would impact on Britain. “Man, that would be power,” Trump reportedly said. Reports don’t indicate whether he was drooling.

What are the potential consequences of bringing an intelligent device that hears everything we say into our homes?

You do it to yourself

Luckily for our intelligence services, the expanding techscape is making it increasingly easy to gain access to what were previously private spaces.

Amazon Alexa, the virtual assistant who is always listening, has been amusing us all by adding items like 150,000 bottles of shampoo, sled dogs and big farts to owners’ shopping lists.

But the issue that ought to give us pause for thought is: what are the potential consequences of bringing an intelligent device that hears everything we say into our homes?

This precedent is currently being tested by a murder investigation in America: James Bates has been charged with drowning his friend and former Georgia police officer in a hot tub at his home. His Amazon Echo speaker has been seized by police in order to “forensically recover the audio data” from the night of the killing.

If Bates committed this murder, then he effectively set up and activated a surveillance device in his own home before committing a crime. Of course as far as he was concerned, he was just playing music.

Connectivity is the emblem of our age.

Why do we do it?

Evidence that people don’t fully understand the consequences of the technology they use turns up every day. Footage of the brutal abuse of a disabled man streamed live on facebook last week shocked viewers by the “brazenness” of the perpetrators who “assaulted the victim then broadcast it for the entire world to see.” It’s possible that they expected some form of approval for their acts; or perhaps in their minds any attention was better than none at all.

Connectivity is the emblem of our age. And these days we are all better connected: to friends and family; to surveillance agencies, to professional trolls and to troubling acts of violence.

‘Only connect’ said E.M. Forster and Zuck echoes the call. Well, yes… but to what?

This article first appeared on our blog.