Massively Open Online Police State

Look, we’d all love to have actual police patrolling every neighborhood in the country, but in this economy, we have to face facts: costs are skyrocketing while the value provided by human police officers is falling, dramatically. The city of Oakland, for example, spends more than 40% of its annual budget on police functions alone, and yet the benefits of being policed by OPD officers has never been lower. Don’t even get me started on the federal defense budget; those guys literally misplace billions of dollars and no one is the wiser.

Across the country, police agencies are struggling to meet the demand for policing created by a modern economy and the ongoing persistent unemployment it requires. And if there is one lesson we should learn from our campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that boots on the ground are simply too politically and fiscally expensive to provide the kind of war without end world destabilization that today’s patriotic consumers demand.

We have to do better.

Massive online surveillance is not new. As techno-utopian Evgeny Morozov has demonstrated, governments in Eastern Europe and the Middle East have been using technology to expand access while cutting costs for over a decade. Millions, even billions, have already been surveilled, often without even realizing it. And targeted bombing of whoever happens to be precisely where the bombs go off is a time-honored tradition that goes back to WWII, or even earlier. Who can forget Guernica?

But, over the past few years, something has changed. The elite, pace-setting governments have embraced the Internet. Not long ago, online surveillance and repression were interesting experiments. Now online activity is at the core of how these nation-states envision their futures.

The United State’s repressive apparatus has a bad case of cost disease (sometimes called Baumol’s cost disease, after one of its theorizers.) The classic example is the string quartet; performing a 15-minute quartet took a cumulative hour of musician time in 1850, and takes that same hour today. This is not true of the production of food, or clothing, or transportation, all of which have seen massive increases in value created per hour of labor. Unfortunately, the obvious ways to make production more efficient—fewer musicians playing faster—wouldn’t work as well for the production of music as for the production of cars.

An organization with cost disease can use lower paid workers, increase the number of consumers per worker, subsidize production, or increase price. For live music, this means hiring less-talented musicians, selling more tickets per performance, writing grant applications, or, of course, raising ticket prices. For police departments and counterinsurgency forces, this means more routine stops and violence, more wars of choice, and more cruise missile diplomacy.

That’s why we’re replacing cops and soldiers with PRISM and predator drones: Massively Open Online Police State (MOOPS). It’s still a work in progress, of course. But I am convinced that technology will allow us to expand access to long underserved populations while maintaining the depth and breadth of service to our core constituencies. Today’s police state offers only a tantalizing glimpse of the kinds of repressive possibilities our children will enjoy.

Sure, there are those who want to go back to the past, who wax nostalgically about the days when J. Edgar Hoover tried to blackmail Martin Luther King into killing himself using a simple letter. (Written with a pen and paper!) If you can imagine, there are still covert operations planned around the “kill Castro with an exploding cigar” model, or the “Murder the democratically elected president of the Congo and dissolve his body in acid” technique. But  who overturns governments by letting terrorists sell drugs to inner-city youth these days? Technology doesn’t stop. You can’t hold back progress.

You may think this MOOPS revolution is hyped, but my driver in [redacted] disagrees. You see, I was picked up at [redacted] by my old friend James Clapper, who is Director of National Intelligence, which recently unveiled [redacted]. When he met me at the airport I saw he was wearing some very colorful sneakers.

“Where did you get those?” I asked. Well [redacted]

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O.K., not every director of national intelligence will develop a global following, but the MOOPS revolution, which will go through many growing pains, is here and is real.