Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

What Kind of Surveillance Are You REALLY Concerned About?!? #digciz

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’m gonna go right out and say this one. Because Audrey Watters said this about me earlier today:


I’m by no means fierce nor fearless by my own standards (or really by anyone’s, if you know all that’s hiding below the very open surface), though I attest to being sleepless. That’s me alright. And probably I look like I’m schooling people out of arrogance that maybe what I have to say is important and folks should listen. When they listen it feeds my ego. So I keep writing. It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily worth learning from..

But listen to this one.

Two things grate on my nerves big time

  1. When people whine about surveillance that happens for commercial/capitalist reasons, rather than actual government intelligence surveillance ; and
  2. When people who are white and oh so privileged whine about protecting their data at the US border

No. Really, no.

Sure, it annoys me that YouTube was giving me web hosting ads when I was Tweeting with Jim Groom all those years ago. And it annoys the heck out of me to hear that Facebook sends people ads related to conversations they had near their phones.

But what scares the shit out of me is who ELSE is listening to that kind of data and what they can do with it. 

Which brings me to point #2. I laughed, I really laughed, when they said the US visa application would now ask for social media information (I just got my visa before this new change happened but had heard of it before. Side point: my husband’s application asks for way more detail than mine. Because male?). But get this. To get my US visa, unlike most European countries, I just had to submit applications for myself and my family, show up, and give fingerprints (the latter was a problem for me for several weeks due to an injured thumb, but thankfully worked out). Sorry. Tangent. My point being this: if they don’t need documentation, they already HAVE ALL THE INFO THEY NEED. I’m pretty sure they have all my social media stuff anyway. It’s mostly public anyway. What are we, ostriches? If employers Google potential employees, am pretty sure the US government (aka FBI/CIA) have the tech and access 10 steps ahead of Google to find out everything they need. Ok?

Which brings me to the second point. What the HECK ARE YOU RISKING when people at the US border ask for your phone and social media passwords? How likely is it that something innocent you did could be misconstrued? Like, how likely are you to be kicked out of your own country or to be detained unjustly? Really. If you’re a white woman? Or even white man? Really. Be serious. Even if they search you, take your phone, are you seriously scared? Seriously? SERIOUSLY? 

And I think of who I have on Facebook as friends. There are friends I grew up with who have strong Muslim brotherhood connections (ok this scares me on a local level as MB are more problematic here than US, I hear). The friend I used to play Barbies with.. The guy who had a crush on me who used to play squash with me. The brother of a close college friend (the former has been imprisoned and tortured, the latter afraid to reenter the country). 

Yes. That.

I’ve never personally had anything horrible happen to me beyond the demeaning bodily searches they do at Manchester airport (didn’t happen in London this year, yay?) and the frequent random checks (fewer now since I travel with my child more often).

And honestly, I’m not concerned about myself so much as I know, I know, if some government wanted info on me or my contacts, they already have it. 

And do you know what else? I bought a new phone (because deleting data doesn’t mean they can’t retrieve it) for entry into the US. I read all the ways ppl can do stuff to make their passwords and social media accounts seem invisible to border officials. But you know what. Doesn’t doing that just make you seem more suspicious? I mean seriously. If you go to lengths to hide stuff from the government, it makes it look like you got something worth hiding. And if you’re a person who looks Muslim what does that imply?

And of course I don’t want anyone wading through my data. My kid’s health information for example. My family’s. My friends’ whatever. Because it’s not cool. But it’s not literally what’s dangerous. And most people who are complaining about this for their own selves are annoying me. If you’re concerned and advocating for other people who will be innocent but targeted and possibly hurt by this, that’s great. But if you stand a very low chance of getting hurt by this, please. Don’t complain in front of me because it just makes me angry.

But maybe I’m just being naïve. 

3 Comments

  1. You provide a great reality check for a lot of people. I think about what could happen to me .. mostly that I wouldn’t be allowed back into the US .. that is it really .. I’m white. I look very white. I have white privilege. For that matter, most of the time when I’m crossing the border, I pre-clear in Canada – so I wouldn’t be stuck for very long, nor risk incarceration within the US immigration system. I worry more for my friends. I worry for you and your family. I also don’t really have anything to hide. I object on principle, but I don’t need to worry for my safety. So I hope that your travels to the US and within the US are less physically invasive than in the past – cause ugg.

    • Oh yeah – thanks for reminding me that ur also much less likely to be stopped in the first place

      My Canadian friend. Born in Canada mind you, but who lives here (and has Egyptian parents so looks Egyptian) says she was stopped and questioned at the Canadian border last time she went. Read that again. Yes

  2. Pingback: Kate

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