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Journal Article (Original Research Article)

Counter-Mapping Surveillance

A Critical Cartography of Mass Surveillance Technology After Snowden

Fernando N. van der Vlist

(DFG Collab. Res. Centre 1187 “Media of Cooperation”,) University of Siegen, Germany
(Dept. of Media Studies,) University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Published in: Surveillance & Society 15.1 (2017): 137–157. Eds. David Murakami Wood and Steve T. Wright. Kingston, ON: Surveillance Studies Network, Queen's University. <http://ojs.library.queensu.ca/index.php/surveillance-and-society/article/view/countermapping>.

Submitted: 30 June 2014; Revised: 22 February 2017; Accepted: 22 February 2017; Published: 28 February 2017

Abstract

This article critically examines mass surveillance technology revealed by Snowden's disclosures. It addresses that we do not only live in a society where surveillance is deeply inscribed but more urgently, that it is increasingly difficult to study surveillance when its technologies and practices are difficult to distinguish from everyday routines. Considerably, many of the technologies and systems utilised for surveillance purposes were not originally designed as proper surveillance technologies. Instead, they have effectively become surveillance technologies by being enrolled into a particular surveillant assemblage. Three contributions are made towards critical scholarship on surveillance, intelligence, and security. First, a novel empirical cartographic methodology is developed that employs the vocabularies of assemblages and actor–networks. Second, this methodology is applied to critically examine global mass surveillance according to Snowden. Multiple leaked data sources have been utilised to trace actors, their associations amongst each other, and to create several graphical maps and diagrams. These maps provide insights into actor types and dependence relations described in the original disclosed documents. Third, the analytical value of three ordering concepts as well as the logistics of surveillance are explored via notable actors and actor groups. In short, this contribution provides empirical cartographic methods, concepts, and analytical targets for critically examining surveillance technology and its particular compositions. It addresses challenges of resisting mass surveillance and some forms of data activism, and calls for the continuing proliferation of counter-maps to facilitate grounded critique, to raise awareness, and to gain a foothold for meaningful resistance against mass surveillance.

Keywords

mass surveillance, critical cartography, actor–network theory, advanced networking technology, global surveillant assemblage, Snowden

mass surveillance
critical cartography
actor–network theory
advanced networking technology
global surveillant assemblage
Snowden

Tables and Figures

Tables

Table 1. Overview of actor types, sorted by frequency count.

TypeFrequencyDescription
Software93 (38.75%)Secret code names for software entities.
Examples: “QUANTUMTHEORY”, “IRATEMONKEY”.
Hardware Implant44 (18.33%)Secret code names for hardware implants and gadgets.
Examples: “COTTONMOUTH”, “HOWLERMONKEY”.
Internet Company26 (10.83%)Privately held companies and corporations associated with the internet industry.
Examples: “Microsoft”, “Tor”.
Surveillance Programme23 (9.58%)Secret code names for surveillance programmes.
Examples: “TURMOIL”, “QUANTUM”.
Human17 (7.08%)Human operators, analysts, and special forces units.
Examples: “ROC”, “FBI DITU”.
Unknown37 (15.42%)Not specified or unclear from source documents.

Figures

Fig. 1. Network diagram of the entire actor–network. Nodes represent distinct actors; edges are associations between those actors, based on traces found in the NSA/CSS Manual and ACLU's NSA Documents database. Nodes: 240; edges: 378; type: directed graph; filter: none. Node ranking: by degree; colour-coding: by actor type; layout: ForceAtlas2 (Jacomy 2011; Jacomy et al. 2012).

Fig. 2. Comparative bubble line diagram (small multiples) of top-ranked nodes, sorted by in-degree (upper) and by out-degree (lower). Filter: degree. Node scaling: by in-degree and by out-degree; sorting: by descending order; colour-coding: by actor type.

Fig. 3. Ego network diagram for “XKEYSCORE” (Software) showing its direct associations (zoom). Nodes: 13 (5.42% visible); edges: 17 (4.5% visible); type: directed graph; filter: topology (ego network, depth 1). Node ranking: by degree; colour-coding: by actor type; layout: ForceAtlas2.

Fig. 4. Ego network diagram for “Microsoft” (Internet Company) showing its direct associations (zoom). Nodes: 16 (6.25% visible); edges: 22 (5.82% visible); type: directed graph; filter: topology (ego network, depth 1). Node ranking: by degree; colour-coding: by actor type; layout: ForceAtlas2.

Fig. 5a. Comparative pie chart diagram (small multiples) of associational actor profiles per internet company, showing the distribution of co-operating actor types. Filter: attribute (Internet Company) and topology (ego network, depth 1). Node scaling: by degree; sorting: by descending order; colour-coding: by actor type.

Fig. 5b. Comparative pie chart diagram (small multiples) of associational actor profiles per surveillance programme, showing the distribution of co-operating actor types. Filter: attribute (Surveillance Programme) and topology (ego network, depth 1). Node scaling: by degree; sorting: by descending order; colourcoding: by actor type.

Fig. 6. Network diagram for actors associated with “interdiction” or “remote access”. Hardware implants and gadgets are highlighted where interdiction is required; software entities are highlighted when remote access is required for implementation. Nodes: 56 (23.33% visible); edges: 36 (9.52% visible); type: directed graph; filter: attribute. Node ranking: by degree; colour-coding: by actor type; layout: ForceAtlas2.

Info
Title: Counter-Mapping Surveillance
Subtitle: A Critical Cartography of Mass Surveillance Technology After Snowden
Type: Journal article; Original research article; Abstract
Editor.name: Dr. D. M. (David) Murakami Wood; Dr. S. T. (Steve) Wright
Editor.affiliation: Queen's University; Leeds Beckett University
Abstract: This article critically examines mass surveillance technology revealed by Snowden's disclosures. It addresses that we do not only live in a society where surveillance is deeply inscribed but more urgently, that it is increasingly difficult to study surveillance when its technologies and practices are difficult to distinguish from everyday routines. Considerably, many of the technologies and systems utilised for surveillance purposes were not originally designed as proper surveillance technologies. Instead, they have effectively become surveillance technologies by being enrolled into a particular surveillant assemblage. Three contributions are made towards critical scholarship on surveillance, intelligence, and security. First, a novel empirical cartographic methodology is developed that employs the vocabularies of assemblages and actor–networks. Second, this methodology is applied to critically examine global mass surveillance according to Snowden. Multiple leaked data sources have been utilised to trace actors, their associations amongst each other, and to create several graphical maps and diagrams. These maps provide insights into actor types and dependence relations described in the original disclosed documents. Third, the analytical value of three ordering concepts as well as the logistics of surveillance are explored via notable actors and actor groups. In short, this contribution provides empirical cartographic methods, concepts, and analytical targets for critically examining surveillance technology and its particular compositions. It addresses challenges of resisting mass surveillance and some forms of data activism, and calls for the continuing proliferation of counter-maps to facilitate grounded critique, to raise awareness, and to gain a foothold for meaningful resistance against mass surveillance.
Keywords: mass surveillance, critical cartography, actor–network theory, advanced networking technology, global surveillant assemblage, Snowden
Length.words: 8,213
Length.reading: 45 mins
Sections: Abstract; Keywords; Introduction; Global Surveillance and Critical Cartography; Assemblages and Actor–Networks; Operationalising Critical Cartography; Mapping NSA Advanced Networking Technology; Ordering, Strategy, and Heterogeneity; Modularity; Functional Dependency; Strategic Alignment; Logistics of Surveillance; Conclusion; Acknowledgements; References; Tables and Figures; Tables; Figures
Element.table: Table 1
Element.figure: Fig. 1; Fig. 2; Fig. 3; Fig. 4; Fig. 5a; Fig. 5b; Fig. 6
Publisher: Surveillance Studies Network (SSN), Queen's University
Publisher.place: Kingston, ON, Canada
Journal.title: Surveillance & Society
Journal.abbrev: S&S
Journal.volume: 15
Journal.issue: 1
Issue.title: Race, Communities and Informers
Issue.section: Surveillance and Security Intelligence after Snowden (continued)
Article.number: 10
Article.pages: 137–157
Date.submitted: 30 June 2014
Date.revised: 22 Feb. 2017
Date.accepted: 22 Feb. 2017
Date.published: 28 Feb. 2017
Language: English (United Kingdom)
Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Documentation.style: The Chicago Manual of Style (author–date, 16th ed.)
Export.citation: BibTEX
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Research Report

Counter-Mapping the NSA/GCHQ Surveillance Narrative

A Critical Cartography of Collaboration, Signals Intelligence, and Technology Exchange in the Global Mass Surveillance Industry

Fernando N. van der Vlist, Pascal Janssens a, J. Wannes Sanderse a, Rik van Eijk a, G. Ezgi Akdağ a

(Graduate School of Humanities,) University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Working paper

Published online: 21 June 2014

Abstract

In this report we investigate the global mass surveillance industry by producing a critical cartography or counter-map of collaborative activity, signals intelligence, and technology exchange between actors implicated by the NSA/GCHQ surveillance-industrial complex. The main objective is to counter the mainstream narrative (i.e. our base map) presented as such by popular news media from a wide range of countries. First, we focus on the exchanges between intelligence agencies of countries that are part of the “Fourteen Eyes” alliance as they appear in English news articles accessible through LexisNexis, asking how we may do a critical mapping by taking as a starting point the countries of the Fourteen Eyes alliance. Second, we then add to this perspective by focusing on the acquisition or harvesting of these data with dedicated technologies through an analysis of the NSA ANT catalog first disclosed by Spiegel Online. The results of the first focus show many mentions of collaboration and data sharing between the concerning countries, but only a single mentioned case of technology sharing. Furthermore, we found that the unanimous reason for this collaborative activity was to support in the “War on Terror”. This map was then read alongside our second, technological map of advanced network technologies in use by the NSA. Although we were not able to “ground” the second map, it showed how each of these technologies are in fact modular and rely on relations of dependency between each other as part of a larger set of interconnected systems that contain subsystems, implying relationships with a wide range of specialisms and experts in this global industry of mass surveillance. Finally, we discuss these results and argue for meaningful directions further research could take to go beyond these maps and inquire into their capacities or affordances (Gibson 1977) toward specific new forms of sociality as well as their uses and users (or abuses and abusers).

Keywords

Internet research, digital methods, issue mapping, surveillance industry, signals intelligence, UKUSA Agreement

Internet research
digital methods
issue mapping
surveillance industry
signals intelligence
UKUSA Agreement
Info
Title: Counter-Mapping the NSA/GCHQ Surveillance Narrative
Subtitle: A Critical Cartography of Collaboration, Signals Intelligence, and Technology Exchange in the Global Mass Surveillance Industry
Type: Research report; Assignment
Author.name: F. N. (Fernando) van der Vlist; P. (Pascal) Janssens; J. W. (Wannes) Sanderse; R. (Rik) van Eijk; G. E.  (Ezgi) Akdağ
Author.affiliation: Graduate School of Humanities, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam
Instructor.name: E. J. T. (Esther) Weltevrede
Instructor.affiliation: Dept. of Media Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam
Contributor.name: Introductory talk by F. (Fieke) Jansen
Contributor.affiliation: Hivos Knowledge Programme, Hivos
Abstract: In this report we investigate the global mass surveillance industry by producing a critical cartography or counter-map of collaborative activity, signals intelligence, and technology exchange between actors implicated by the NSA/GCHQ surveillance-industrial complex. The main objective is to counter the mainstream narrative (i.e. our base map) presented as such by popular news media from a wide range of countries. First, we focus on the exchanges between intelligence agencies of countries that are part of the “Fourteen Eyes” alliance as they appear in English news articles accessible through LexisNexis, asking how we may do a critical mapping by taking as a starting point the countries of the Fourteen Eyes alliance. Second, we then add to this perspective by focusing on the acquisition or harvesting of these data with dedicated technologies through an analysis of the NSA ANT catalog first disclosed by Spiegel Online. The results of the first focus show many mentions of collaboration and data sharing between the concerning countries, but only a single mentioned case of technology sharing. Furthermore, we found that the unanimous reason for this collaborative activity was to support in the “War on Terror”. This map was then read alongside our second, technological map of advanced network technologies in use by the NSA. Although we were not able to “ground” the second map, it showed how each of these technologies are in fact modular and rely on relations of dependency between each other as part of a larger set of interconnected systems that contain subsystems, implying relationships with a wide range of specialisms and experts in this global industry of mass surveillance. Finally, we discuss these results and argue for meaningful directions further research could take to go beyond these maps and inquire into their capacities or affordances (Gibson 1977) toward specific new forms of sociality as well as their uses and users (or abuses and abusers).
Keywords: Internet research, digital methods, issue mapping, surveillance industry, signals intelligence, UKUSA Agreement
Length.words: 5,406
Length.reading: 31 mins
Sections: Summary; Keywords; 1. Introduction; 1.1. The Global Mass Surveillance Industry; 1.2. Mapping and Critical Cartography; 1.3. Previous and Related Work; 2. Research Questions; 3. Methods; 3.1. LexisNexis Analysis: Mapping Surveillance Resource Sharing; 3.1.1. Country-specific Query Design; 3.1.2. Analysis of Retrieved Articles and their Relations; 3.2. NSA ANT Catalog Analysis: Mapping Actors in the Global Mass Surveillance Industry; 4. Results and Findings; 4.1. LexisNexis Analysis; 4.2. NSA ANT Catalog Analysis; 5. Discussion; 6. Endnotes; 7. References
Element.table: Table 1; Table 2
Element.figure: Fig. 1; Fig. 2; Fig. 3a; Fig. 3b; Fig. 4; Fig. 5
Date.submitted: 28 Apr. 2014
Date.publishedonline: 21 June 2014
Date.evaluated: 27 June 2014
Language: English (United Kingdom)
Documentation.style: Modern Language Association (7th ed.)
Export.citation: BibTEX
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