Much has been said and written about the role of social media and the Internet during the Arab Spring. Especially the liberating potentials of these technologies are discussed, even anthropologists are belabouring the topic. But, and that’s the ↵core theme of cyberpunk, technologies are fundamentally ambivalent. Just yesterday ↑Jamming Tripoli: Inside Moammar Gadhafi’s secret surveillance network by Matthieu Aikins was published by Wired:
[The] activists would suffer greatly at the hands of Gadhafi’s spy service, whose own capabilities had been heightened by 21st-century technology. By now, it’s well known that the Arab Spring showed the promise of the Internet as a crucible for democratic activism. But, in the shadows, a second narrative unfolded, one that demonstrated the Internet’s equal potential for government surveillance and repression on a scale unimaginable with the old analog techniques of phone taps and informants. Today, with Gadhafi dead and a provisional government of former rebels in charge, we can begin to uncover the secret, high tech spying machine that helped the dictator and his regime cling to power.
Matthieu Aikins’ article is a deeply researched wonderful piece of journalism on Gadhafi’s secret high tech measures of information control. Matthieu doesn’t just do justice to real people and to technology’s ambivalence, but we also have the proverbial (western and/or international) evil corporations who furnished the means:
“Massive intercept” technology, like countless other innovations of the West’s military-industrial complex, has now become cheap, small, and simple enough to export as a commercial, off-the-shelf technology, for sale to any government that can cough up a few tens of millions of dollars. Today you can run an approximation of 1984 out of a couple of rooms filled with server racks. And that’s precisely what Libya’s spies did—and what dictatorships all around the world continue to do.