The War on Terror, 22 years later...

gathering information, gathering, information,

The War on Terror began 22 years ago. At times, it might seem as though the tensions have dissipated–until, for example, you’re an Arab selected for a ‘random’ search at a foreign airport. But that’s a different story. While the U.S. wasn’t the only government infiltrating its citizens’ private lives and gathering information, it certainly made headlines for doing so. In their fear, these world governments weaponized their people and inadvertently allowed other entities to do the same. This leads us to the present day, where corporations view us primarily as sources of data.

Initially rooted in defense and intelligence, Big Data and data analytics have since permeated various other sectors, including but not limited to healthcare, finance, and education. It’s clear that these governments’ decisions to gather information have sparked a revolution in data-driven decision-making.

As life progressed and technology continued to advance, the sources of data collection expanded as well. While the “traditional” avenues of gathering information are still in use, data is now also collected from the Internet of Things (IoT) and a plethora of social media platforms. If you’re not entirely sure what IoT entails, it’s a network of physical devices, vehicles, and other objects embedded with sensors and software that communicate with each other and the internet. Prime examples include smart home devices like Alexa, wearable devices like the Apple Watch, and connected cars like Tesla’s electric vehicles. Regarding social media, recall how TikTok faced issues with the U.S. government over data security concerns.

Virtually everything that surrounds you collects data, whether you consent to it or not. Some aspects of this reality have even morphed into jokes, such as the notion that your phone listens to you. How hilariously unfunny, indeed.

We’ve also transitioned from basic data analytics to advanced analytics, which enables predictive and real-time analytics. We now live under the watchful eye of large organizations constantly hovering over us. I never imagined there would be some validity to the conspiracy theorists’ paranoia regarding their privacy. I was indeed wrong in that assumption.

An End Justifying the Means?

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the War on Terror catalyzed a seismic shift in global governance and intelligence strategies. Enter Big Data, initially harnessed to bolster counterterrorism efforts. In the process, privacy was eroded in the name of security. And it’s not like they are using you, their living, breathing favorite weapon, to only get at strangers and extremist enemies. They are using you to keep an eye on your community, from Bob the burger shop owner from down the street to the single mother living on the last floor whose baby has colic. Anyone who doesn’t get with the program is now a suspect.

As the war on terror’s echoes continue, we find ourselves unwittingly entangled in a vast web of data. What began as a response to a crisis evolved into a long-lasting societal model based on gathering information.

Our governments weaponized us, but organizations commercialized us. We’ve become either a weapon or a commodity–take your pick.

But at night, as you pour your existential dread into your whiskey and all is silent and dark except for the light of your microwave clock, think. Think about how they stole you, binary digit by binary digit, turned you against your neighbor, and then sold you to the highest bidder. Ask yourself this: Will they ever stop?

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