The in(dividual)

Yesterday I went to a reading group within cyber security, and we talked about an interesting paper that was in Science January this year, called “Unique in the shopping mall: on the reidentifiability of credit card metadata” (paid subscription required). Though we talked about several of the issues with the paper and the reason for its appearance in Science for a start, this got me thinking about the wider concept of the ‘dividual’ that Deleuze details in a short article that was published (see paper here) in the publication October in 1992.

Through a fairly dense, but easy to read paper, Deleuze summarises that we have moved from Foucault’s disciplinary societies to control societies. For those with a background in this, please skip to the next paragraph. So, to potentially to give the work of Foucault great injustice in what I am about to say; Foucault identifies a transformation of society in the transition from the medieval to industrial period. These periods are obviously not solely independent and the mechanisms do not always belong to one and can be applied alongside one another. Hence the growth of institutions such as the school, the hospital, the barracks, the prison and so on all were a transition where bodies en masse were controlled and disciplined to work for the powerful.

To speed on from the simple explanation above, Deleuze (and Foucault himself in governmentality and biopolitics) identify a new movement in the development of their thought. This is one where individualism and the body not solely as an empty ‘space’ becomes a ‘place’ where thoughts and movements should be all-flowing and monitored. Modulation is the word Deleuze uses to express this new formation where we do not simply move between institutions as before but are constantly having to learn, self-police, healthcare services in the home and the burgeoning market in healthcare products. This means that the emphasis is on the individual to succeed (with its associated serpent, neoliberal capitalism).

So, why the societies of control or control societies? Unlike in the past where individuals were constructed in order to be disciplined, neoliberalism requires free movement but states (and other stakeholders seeking to control – think corporations, gated communities) still require extensive monitoring to ensure they maintain their power. This monitoring is aided through the use of technologies that track our movements through passes to enter buildings, touchless payment cards and mobile phone signals. Deleuze coins the word ‘dividual’ to capture the data that are produced by in(dividuals) where segments of the data are used to control; such as the ability to access buildings, access to credit according to financial transaction history, et cetera. The concept of the dividual makes more sense if we have discrete datasets. Yet, we live in the world of supposedly ‘big’ data where there is an increasing ability to cross-reference dividualised data to (re)construct an ‘in(dividual)’.

Returning to the paper that constructed my thoughts above, the authors claimed that they could easily reconstruct roughly 90% of unique credit card identifiers through four informational nodes. These could include the location of the shop, time of purchase, approximate cost and distance from next purchase for example. Though there are other issues of privacy and the unicity (the ability to reidentify unique individuals) of data, there is a philosophical question to grapple with that uses both the societies of control and disciplinary societies. I consider the ‘body’ (in its extension to producing non-human datas, movements across space and like) to be critical to arguing our current epoch is not one of pure dividuals – and displaying the geographies this produces.

I much prefer to use the ‘in(dividual)’ to present the current manifestation of our society. The formation of the internet and ever-increasing sharing of information has enabled disparate information to come together and provide ‘value’ to capitalism. This is epitomised in the valuation of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and the giant Google. This value requires these companies to in(dividual)ise. Let me explain what I mean here. So for ‘big’-data analytics to operate effectively it needs to dividualise my body(ie)’s movements through its limited collection points; through my credit card, my phone signal, my Facebook account, the cookies I leave lying around and so on. This enables a population-becoming whereby services can be focused on particular ‘groups'(?) and reflects the growing use of statistics in the development of biopolitics (see Louise Amoore’s article ‘Security and the claim to privacy‘ on ‘data derivatives’). Yet there is a requirement for personalised advertising where I must become in(dividual). I must form a group. I am gay. Therefore I get many ‘gay-themed’ adverts across the internet (some to my utter amusement!). This feedback loop, where I am classed as forming as ‘at risk’ group for example, if I was to apply for credit with a ‘poor’ rating, then the in(dividual) would come to play. My in(dividual) body’s movement influences ‘it’, and ‘it’ influences ‘me’.

Therefore how can one work against this? What playful acts can I working as an in(dividual) do? I could spend rather large amounts at different places (although probably not), use different cards, use other people’s cards? Or I could change my Facebook ‘likes’ or make completely false trails everywhere. This is where the power lays. This is where the kink in current society lies. Although I am partially determined by my allocation, what happens if I do not conform to any group – I do not only do it for myself, the data that feeds the group is also skewed. This is true play. To circumvate the rules, to not conform to one identity, but express the multiple identities the body inherently exudes. This in(dividual)ising both can have detrimental effects on how I operate as an in(dividual) as long as I play by the rules. The best play is one which bends them.

Why is the body critical to this? Critically the body is one which has truely emancipatory affect (though we must realise we live in a period where ‘able’ bodies tend to ‘succeed’ in comparison to less-able bodies). There are only a limited amount of collection points (though these are ever-increasing in size with sensors in the Internet of Things (IoT)) that mean that their comprehension of the world is always limited and non-pervasive. Therefore feeding certain nodes bits of information that our bodies produce incorrectly (such as hacking a wearable technology to send ‘healthy’ signals to an insurance company) enable small acts of powerful play that not only distort the in(dividual) but the dividualised groupings. We can use the ingenuity of the body (and here I refuse to use the mind-body dualism – useful to point out here) to claim the in(dividual) for ourselves, in whatever form ourself may take.

A view to the future: US Cyber Strategy

It has been a while since I last posted on my old blog which has now been closed. So here is the start of the new blogs here. Apologies for the delay in getting to this point – I have been active on my mini-projects and during the Easter break I took some well-earned rest over in Madrid. However over the past couple of weeks we have got a somewhat more detailed view of cyber security from the United States and when there would be a case under their doctrine for a response. This is just a brief look at the speech by the Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, on the new Department of Defense’s Cyber Strategy, that capture some of the thinking behind their thinking. Though there is some hyperbole behind the media response to this new strategy (Daily Mail (UK)) regarding ‘cyber war’, there are some good articles such as those by the Washington Post. This article shows how much more pragmatic the US is becoming (moving away from Leon Panetta’s ‘cyber Pearl Harbor‘ remarks). I think this is a particularly wise move – as drumming up some form of comparison with Pearl Harbor does no good to anyone.

In the speech by Carter, there is an interesting connection between academia, government, and the Pentagon in WWII and the Cold War. This is detailed below:

“Looking out over the last 75 years, we’ve had a long history of partnership. Sometimes the bonds between the academy, industry, and defense were particularly close…like during World War II, when the Manhattan Project and the MIT Radiation Laboratory and others brought together the brightest minds, and the best of industry cranked out the ships, planes, and tanks – at what are now astonishing to us numbers. And another was during the Cold War, when a cross­section of military, academic, and private­ sector experts paved the way to a future of precision­guided munitions, battle networks, and stealth. At times, we also eyed each other warily – like when Bobby Inman faced off against Martin Hellman and Whit Diffie over public­key encryption and commercialization; or during the controversy over the Clipper ship – chip – Clipper chip, excuse me, in the 1990s; and, more recently, after the actions of Edward Snowden.”
What is interesting in the above quote is the doctrine of the past 15 or so years since 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ is mysteriously missing. There have been significant collaborations between industry and government in particular in this period. So it would seem odd for this to be somehow not mentioned? It is well known large segments of academia have been very unhappy with some of the policies of the ‘War on Terror’ and the George Bush State of Union Address 2002 describing the ‘axis of evil’. Therefore there is a deliberate construction, I believe, of a third new major collaboration and challenge for the USA in ‘cyber’ security. This is a repositioning of foreign and domestic policy to one based on broad-based consensus rather than the more divisive politics of Bush.
Carter announces three core elements of the new problem facing the USA in ‘cyber’:

“This is one of the world’s most complex challenges today, which is why the Department of Defense has three missions in the cyber domain. The first is defending our own networks and weapons, because they’re critical to what we do every day…and they’re no good if they’ve been hacked. Second, we help defend the nation against cyberattacks from abroad– especially if they would cause loss of life, property destruction, or significant foreign policy and economic consequences. And our third mission is to provide offensive cyber options that, if directed by the President, can augment our other military systems.”

The first two have been commonplace and widely accepted in US approaches to cyber security. It is the third, to provide offensive cyber options, which is the clearest statement yet that the US is willing to participate in forms of cyber attack (or war, though I still don’t fully see this as a possibility in the current theorisations we have). For those who surround themselves in cyber security – this is not something we did not know before. For example look at the Stuxnet case on the Nantanz enrichment facility in Iran and have a look on Google on the cyber security courses that are accredited by the NSA in US universities that are clearly focused towards the ability to train young people for offensive operations.

By publicly disclosing this policy there is both a foreign and domestic aim. Abroad it is a confirmation of what every state already knew about US cyber operations – and therefore be able to use it as a proxy for potential intervention. Domestically, it is to garner support for the intelligence agencies after Snowden and establish a broad-based consensus around cyber operations from a ‘third’ threat. This requires a redrawing and collecting forgetting of the ‘war on terror’ as somehow not one of the major threats to the US (regardless whether one agrees with this or not).