On the Brink of a New Cryptowar: Facebook’s Discursive Move to Privacy


In the early days of surveillance capitalism in the US, the state’s desire for mass surveillance was met by growing online platforms whose self-ascribed mission was to “organize and make accessible the world’s information” (Google) or to become the singular place where people “stay connected with friends and family, to discover what's going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them” (Facebook). Snowden’s PRISM revelations showed that digital platforms (knowingly or unknowingly) provided the security state access to a sweeping amount of information on their constituents (or so-called ‘users’ from the platform’s perspective) in the name of fighting (and increasingly preventing) terror and crime. Fast-forward 15 years, the state institutions increasingly find themselves at odds with platforms that have to balance their users’ post-Snowden demand for privacy with the desire of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to use the data generated on their platforms in the name of vague notions of ‘national security’ or child safety. While in the early 21st century, the goals of the security state and the nascent surveillance capitalists were neatly aligned, their relationship becomes more complex as the corporate platforms grow more and more powerful while state security apparatuses increasingly depend on them in carrying out their functions. Specifically, I explain both Facebook’s recent discursive move to a “privacy-focused vision of social networking” (Zuckerberg, 2019) and the security state’s response to that move in the US, the UK and Germany by the structural-institutional shift from the mutually beneficial public-private partnerships of the early 2000s to more contested forms of interaction that characterise these states’ post-Snowden relationship with the platform. Apart from the state’s growing dependency on increasingly powerful platforms generally, I will give particular emphasis to the positive feedback effects that explain the close alignment of platforms with the security state prior to the Snowden revelations and argue that they diminished for the platforms after Snowden disclosed their uncritical enabling of the security state.

In Submitted to International Politial Science Association World Congress 2020
Linus Sehn
Graduate Student in International Relations

I am interested in all the ways computer technology reconfigures the political landscape