Big Data refusal: the nuclear disarmament movement of the 21st century

James Bridle's new essay (adapted from a speech at the Through Post-Atomic Eyes event in Toronto last month) draws a connection between the terror of life in the nuclear shadow and the days we live in now, when we know that huge privacy disasters are looming, but are seemingly powerless to stop the proliferation of surveillance.

He connects his essay to Maciej Ceglowski's speech, "Haunted By Data"; and my 2008 essay on personal information as nuclear waste.

The one concession to the present at Bletchley is a small Intel-sponsored exhibition about cybersecurity, which is largely useless, but also unintentionally revealing. One of the talking heads it calls upon while advising visitors to always use a strong password when browsing online is Michael Hayden. That's Michael Hayden, former director of NSA and CIA, who is famous in part for affirming that "we kill people with metadata" – an affirmation that data is a weapon in itself.

This thing we call BIG DATA is The Bomb – a tool developed for wartime purposes which can destroy indiscriminately. I was struck hard by this realisation at Bletchley, and once seen, it can't be unseen.

I'm not the only one who has this sense either*. The phrase "privacy chernobyl" or "meltdown" has been deployed by the media on many occasions, most recently in reference to the Ashley Madison hack when the personal information of thousands of people was posted online for all to see, with little sympathy for the victims, even when they turned out to be just that, conned twice over, first by Ashley Madison's marketing department, and second by its security team.

But when that data is the names and addresses of all the children in the UK, or an HIV clinic's medical records, or all of a cellular provider's customer data, it's a bit more concerning.

Big Data, No Thanks
[James Bridle/Book Two]