The need to understand security through the interrelationships of surveillance, labor, and capital has become a pressing issue since Edward Snowden's revelations about the scope of the National Security Agency's (NSA) pervasive monitoring programs in 2013. Security is a network of social modes autonomously enacting authority (the security apparatus ). Central to this framework is the aspiration to the 'state of information,' most apparent in the surveillance Snowden documented, where vast amounts of information are collected and stored precisely so that they can be instrumentally deployed to both predict future behaviors and police past actions. The authorization for increasing the scope and breadth of collected information originates with this aspiration -- simply one dimension of the political economy of digital capitalism -- and so cannot be considered in isolation. Addressing the challenges posed by pervasive monitoring requires the recognition that it is not an isolated phenomenon -- rather, it is reflective of a broader collection of mutually reinforcing tendencies in digital capitalism itself. Surveillance, however broad and omnipresent, nevertheless is simply an epiphenomenon resulting from other, more fundamental demands.
Contemporary surveillance has its origins with earlier forms of surveillance: this issue was an ongoing concern throughout the twentieth century, immediately apparent not only in fictional works (George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four, published in 1949) but in the political realm as well (the scandal over wiretapping in the 1970s known as "Watergate"). Yet there were only occasional moments when the extent of the surveillance undertaken ever became apparent. Its clandestine nature has limited analysis and consideration of its role in digital capitalism. By nature, surveillance is surreptitious, secretive, suspected -- but only rarely demonstrated -- at the same time, it also demands deception about its existence, a fact that Orwell noted in his novel. The uncertainty prior to Snowden's revelations is reflective of these ambiguities: the memoranda and other documentation leaked to the press by Snowden, unlike similar leaks and claims made in the decade prior to his highly visible release of NSA documents, provided direct evidence of not only the (formerly) conspiracy theorists' claim that surveillance is omnipresent, but the extent of its technical capacities to record, integrate, and process the vast amount of data generated by automating this surveillance so it no longer requires human oversight. To assert the materiality of the digital against disavowals of the physical dimensions of these technologies, in opposition to the 'aura of the digital,' is essential to this analysis. Digital automation increasingly performs tasks that were formerly the exclusive domain of human intelligence, in the process enabling a broader and more complete surveillance than ever before. The ability to automate the recognition of faces, the ability to listen and transcribe speech, both tasks that require a different kind of intelligence than found in a clockwork mechanism, has enabled the pervasive monitoring of everyone's every activity rather than a small portion of those performed by selected individuals -- this expansive surveillance system is what Snowden revealed.
The broader significance of this confirmation is not technical, nor even an issue of privacy: surveillance has become a tool not only of governments, but of business, and of crime. The databases produced through this pervasive monitoring have become productive domains in themselves, creating value through the autonomous digital rearrangement of the information they contain. This new variety of unintelligent production impacts the organization and structure of society as a whole, creating a systemic crisis for capitalist value production that is unlike the periodic financial crises precipitated by a decline in the rate of value production over the past two hundred years: the deployment of surveillance, independent of any particular purpose, is linked to the inherent instability of digital capitalism; the forms of digital automation that enable pervasive monitoring are the root cause of this instability.