Commentary. We have been accustomed to being told that it is the Chinese and ‘the platforms’ that are spying on us. As if Western democracies, on the other hand, do not.

Western hypocrisy and the real surveillance state

If you go to any search engine and look for information on espionage and state surveillance, it is almost certain that you’ll find pages that describe China’s security mechanisms, or the operations— sometimes unscrupulous—of the now famous Russian hackers.

These are two realities that no one denies: China and Russia have for a long time dedicated attention and resources to the control of their own citizens and to the attempt to break into others’ security systems.

However, as far as China is concerned, for example, no one has ever provided evidence of such activities conducted “externally” (not even the U.S., which has built up the current geopolitical direction on the accusations of espionage against Huawei). This is one aspect: the narrative of the Biden era, with which the U.S. is trying to return to the position of leader of its allies, more or less lost during the Trump years, is based precisely on this assumption: that you can’t trust China, because all the Chinese are spies or are on the payroll of the Communist Party (a leitmotif also taken up by the Italian media every time the occasion arises).

However, much less ink is wasted, and many fewer “investigations” are made, about Biden himself, vice president during the events of the latest scandal (among many) regarding the American habit of spying even on their allies—with the exception of the media that have followed up on yet another trail from the many revelations of Snowden, treated as an outlaw by the press across half the world because he has revealed—with plenty of evidence, not just suspicions—the methods of mass surveillance of the U.S. But this is not the only thing that the latest revelations can make us aware of: we have become accustomed to hearing that the Chinese are spying, and also, in particular, the “platforms,” the great protagonists of “surveillance capitalism.”

In this case as well, we cannot deny the ”extractive” capacity of tech companies, which are making use of our data, including (perhaps, potentially) for control purposes. But very little is said about the states, and the large-scale purchases of facial recognition systems, a business sector where, despite the Chinese leadership of the field, the Americans still dominate. In this sense, even the position of those who believe that such tools should be in state hands becomes problematic: they already are.

It’s just that we don’t speak much about them, or we tend to highlight the disturbing and undeniable developments in distant places (China), without realizing that we are also being watched here in the West: by both companies and states. We shouldn’t assume that today’s surveillance tools, which are also in the hands of Western police—who already use predictive models, with all the biases repeatedly highlighted by experts and non-governmental organizations—are only operating in another world, and not, indeed, in ours.

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