In June 2020, the surveillance powers of the Patriot Act —an act introduced by George W. Bush against the threat of Islamist terrorism on domestic soil— finally expired after almost 19 years. The law allowed the FBI to go spy on American citizens without a warrant. But this may be the only good news on this front, and not for long.
With the Capitol Hill protests, and a stupid LARP (Live Action Role Play) resulting in the breach of the US Congress, domestic surveillance is likely to be back. On steroids.
Mainstream media outlets and politicians were quick to jump in and call it an act of “terrorism”. You can think whatever you want about what happened at the Capitol.
However, if you let establishment media and politicians call it “terrorism”, then every bread riot from starving citizens and every window-smashing protest against 80-hour work-week app jobs in the gig economy will also be called “terrorism.”
Over the past four years since Donald Trump got elected, the power of Silicon Valley oligarchs has grown immensely.
In September 2018, Twitter suspended Alex Jones from its platform for “abusive behavior”. Almost two-and-a-half years later, on January 8th, 2021, the sitting President of the United States was permanently suspended from Twitter due to the “risk of further incitement of violence.”
To add to this, former first lady Michelle Obama called on Big Tech companies to permanently ban President Trump from their platforms and put policies in place “to prevent their technology from being used by the nation’s leaders to fuel insurrection.”
If Michelle Obama called on Big Tech —not Congress, not newspapers, not cable news— to “save the country” from speech she doesn’t like, it should tell you who is really in charge.
Biden has also been urged to create a White House post overseeing the fight against such “domestic terrorism” and increasing funding to combat it, according to people who have advised his team.
When such a law was proposed by Rep. Adam Schiff in Congress in 2019-2020, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) vehemently opposed it saying that it “would unnecessarily expand law enforcement authorities to target and discriminate against the very communities Congress is seeking to protect … would further incorporate abusive terrorism authorities into a discriminatory criminal justice system.”
However, when the sitting US President was suspended from Twitter, the ACLU could not issue a clear statement outright condemning it, but rather saying they “understand the desire to permanently suspend him.”
It is precisely important here to note two key points.
One, that when Black Lives Matter protests were destroying mom-and-pop stores, burning down low-income housing, and creating their own “anarchist commune” (all while companies like Amazon saw sky-high profits), Kamala Harris supported calls for a releasing those arrested of such activities by promoting the Minnesota Freedom Fund.
And two, Big Tech has been exceptionally warm towards a Biden presidency, having successfully managed to staff executives from such companies into Biden’s transition team.
It is very clear where the power in the US resides, and who it controls. Surprisingly, there are very few people on the Left and Right to challenge it, including the so-called “populists”.
Republicans will maybe call on Big Tech CEOs to a Senate hearing, but will ultimately not do anything because of the engrained Reaganite free-market fundamentalism that has caused their brains to rot beyond repair.
The Left, which theoretically should be against such corporate overreach, is actually loudly cheering Trump’s suspension. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went so far ahead as to cheer Google and Apple for threatening to ban the conservative “free speech” social media app Parler from their app stores.
To add to this, the Alphabet Workers Union (a self-described “union” of Google employees) called for increased online censorship against “fascist recruitment and oppression”.
Unions have historically been for championing workers’ rights (such as wages and workplace safety) and free speech. But of course, what can you expect from a “union” of striving elitists in Silicon Valley who care more about wokeness and “microaggressions” than actual wage-slavery.
In sum, Big Tech now has the power to override the President of its own country, has funded and is working in the team of the upcoming Biden-Harris presidency, and has almost nobody to oppose it because of Republican libertarianism and Leftist calls for censorship against a supposed “fascism”.
Years ago when Trump took office, many political scientists laughed and said how Trump has imported US foreign policy at home. Well in that case, prepare yourselves for a new “War on Terror”, brought to you by Leftists, Democrats, Republicans, Big Tech, and mainstream media. If you oppose this, you are a “racist” and a “fascist.”
Will Neoconservative foreign policy now be domestic policy?
As grim as this may sound, there are still some other paths forward but they may have some drawbacks.
A slightly conservative approach to solving this problem would be antitrust enforcement. Breaking up Big Tech. For many conservatives, this would be in line with their desire to foster competition and it would follow the footsteps of Theodore Roosevelt. But ultimately, the nature of Capital tends to monopoly as Vladimir Lenin rightly noted.
Another path would be a slightly left-wing approach, where Big Tech is nationalized. This approach may also be favourable among some of the populist conservative circles.
While this second approach could result in an outcry from free-market fundamentalists, it is important to make aware (as is mentioned in the linked article by Pedro Gonzalez), that “the argument against state intervention into private businesses fails because they no longer operate as mere ‘businesses,’ but rather act more like nonstate actors who have become as a ‘state within the state.’”
The second approach may also create new revenue streams from these companies to finance social programs for working-class Americans, while simultaneously putting these companies under the purview of the First Amendment. However, this may be of concern to other countries around the world, America’s adversaries and allies alike.
Due to these tradeoffs, no matter which path is chosen (if any is chosen at all in the coming years), countries like India, Russia, etc., need to either come up with their own alternatives (like Russia did with VKontakte) or find a way to regulate these companies to obey the constitution of their own countries. Countries like India, for example, must ensure foreign capitalist monopolies are subservient to its constitutions and not vice versa.
If trust-busting or nationalization is not done timely, we will enter a form of Monopolistic Surveillance Capitalism where Big Tech would have ultimate and unaccountable control over humanity. The outlook of a private social-credit system doesn’t look too far-fetched. But for now, a new Patriot Act on steroids should be expected.