Surveillance and loss of privacy are watchwords in the digital transformation of societies worldwide.
Who is watching us and for what purposes? Who is infringing private spaces and closing down public spaces? When it comes to communication infrastructures and technologies, accessibility and affordability are no longer enough, simply because neither governments nor corporate entities can be trusted to play fair.
In “Will we just accept our loss of privacy, or has the techlash already begun?” (The Guardian, 2 February 2020), Alan Rusbridger identifies the naivety with which people accept technological intrusion in the guise of progress:
“Probably too late to ask, but was the past year the moment we lost our technological innocence? The Alexa in the corner of the kitchen monitoring your every word? The location-betraying device in your pocket? The dozen trackers on that web page you just opened? The thought that a 5G network could, in some hazily understood way, be hardwired back to Beijing? The spooky use of live facial recognition on CCTV cameras across London.”
It's probably true that few saw this coming. The law of unintended consequences has meant that people’s craving for and willing acceptance of technological benefits (ease of use, instantaneity, connectivity) far outweigh any caution. Many even argue that if you’ve got nothing to hide…
The deregulation of communication infrastructures and the lack of oversight of “big tech” has also upset the apple cart of public service journalism. News sources that were once sacrosanct are now suspect and social media reports gain unwarranted credence.
So the announcement in December 2019 by Civitates, a philanthropic initiative for democracy and solidarity in Europe, of a new fund to support independent, public interest journalism is a step in the right direction if civil society is going to regain the high ground.
The goal is to establish a strong cohort of independent, public interest journalism organisations that defend democracy in Europe by exposing abuses of power and drivers of polarisation, and by providing spaces in which all voices can be heard.
According to Civitates, “The fund will provide multiyear commitments for general operating support and the institutional strengthening of its grantee partners to build more durable, more resilient, more networked, and more impactful public interest journalism organisations in Europe.”
Let’s hope that this is the start of a more widespread rebellion against undemocratic forces intent on suppressing genuinely alternative voices and dissent.