One of the first proverbs of the Chinese essay Thirty-Six Stratagems is “kill with a borrowed sword.” It means you should attack an enemy using their own strength against them. Such a tactic has the element of surprise in addition to conserving your own well-being. It’s a timeless strategy for taking on an enemy bigger and more powerful than yourself.
As the United States government continues to collect swaths of private records of citizens and non-citizens alike, the idea of privacy in modern society is slowly disappearing. Phone records, email correspondences, text messages, and even your very location are all tracked and recorded in the dusty basement of some bureaucracy. Sinking into anonymity is now virtually impossible. It’s harder than ever to have a private conversation outside of direct, face-to-face interaction.
As Jeffrey Tucker pointed out, constant government surveillance is changing us – and not for the better. Uncle Sam’s surveillance dragnet is so all-encompassing, our fingers now hesitate before typing words. Our freedom of thought is compromised. Our natural right to privacy – and human need for open and intimate conversation – is undermined in the name of government control.
Yet, as the snoops in Washington have their sights set on all of us, we have our sights looking the opposite direction. When you live in a society where a certain class of people demand access to your candid communications, the same weapon can be used against them. We’re seeing this trend become more prevalent as the use of smartphones and cameras increases.
Recently Daily Beast reporter Josh Rogin caught Secretary of State John Kerry in a red-face moment while discussing the sensitive relationship between the country of Israel and Palestine. In a closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission, Kerry told the audience that if a two-state solution does not soon come to pass, Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state.” He also warned of a possible increase in Palestinian-led violence and condemned the settlement-building pushed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Immediately the statement drew criticism from various pro-Israel groups as well as Jewish leaders. Anyone with scant knowledge of the ongoing conflict in the birthplace of Christianity and Judaism knows it wasn’t meant for public consumption. But it was released anyway thanks to a secret recording. Kerry was left with egg on his face, and was forced to apologize.
Now, Rogin is hardly an anti-statist. His agenda wasn’t subverting an insidious plot. Likewise, The Daily Beast is a mainstream publication that tows the imperialist line. The goal was to get a story that would otherwise go unreported. Rogin apparently snuck into a closed-door meeting and surreptitiously obtained an off-putting remark, likely with a smartphone or small recording device. While government snoops in the National Security Agency collect the private records off his cell phone, Rogin used the same device to collect a candid thought by one of the most powerful leaders in government.
The irony begs for notice.
Rogin is, of course, not the only journalist using small, easy-to-hide gadgets to his advantage. Intrepid reporters like Luke Rudkowksi and Ben Swann are using digital technology to uncover stories the mainstream press won’t touch. Ordinary citizens are using their personal devices to record the activities of “law enforcement” officers, the result of which isn’t always pretty. Politicians are being caught in compromising positions. Dishonest men filling their pockets from the public treasure are getting their comeuppance. Technology is now a tool to use against the state, whether it be through discrediting respectable figures or speaking truth to power.
How the tides have turned.
It’s funny to think that just a few decades ago, government officials had the upper hand in spying. Days after his famous speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom rally, Martin Luther King. Jr. was subject to intrusive spying. The Federal Bureau of Investigation sought to “neutralize” his influence. King’s hotel rooms were bugged, and his personal infidelities were uncovered. The dirt was used to harass the civil rights icon; the ultimate goal being thorough discreditation in the eyes of the public.
King’s message of equality under the law was powerful, but he was powerless in protecting his privacy against the might of the U.S. government. The personal moments of his life were recorded and used as a psychological weapon against him. A smartphone wouldn’t have prevented this, but at the very least it could have been used to inform others of his plight. To think, had “Letter from Birmingham Jail” gone “viral” immediately after composition, it may have had a larger impact.
Keeping tabs on proponents of government spying is just one way to harness technology and use it as an advantage. More fundamentally, it’s only part of why broader communication abilities are important in the struggle for liberty. Utilizing the new technological paradigm to spread ideas is the most powerful weapon limited government proponents have at their disposal. It is the realm of ideas where individual passion lies. Facilitating that release – or streamlining it as the internet has done – is how truth enters the public domain. Governments fear open communication between individuals because it means opinions can’t be formed and controlled
From the Apostle Paul to Edward Snowden, voices in the cause of freedom have always had powerful barriers in their path. The only thing that could overcome such limits was a resolution to speak the truth unafraid. Paul was executed for spreading the Gospel. Snowden now lives in exile for leaking details on the U.S. government’s spying activity. Even with this punishment, their message was still spread far and wide.
The thing about bureaucracy is that it’s always weighed down by its own cumbersome nature. The state may have all the guns, but it doesn’t always have the wits. Likewise, the government may exert a great degree of control over the internet, but pockets of resistance exist within. That’s why reporters can wiggle their way into secret meetings. It’s why information can still be transferred out of the panopticon surveillance prison that escones the globe. For every step the state takes, its fallible nature leaves it open to ridicule. It’s a space the technologically savvy can take advantage of to spread the truth. Let’s hope we see more of it.