Repackaging the Archive (Part X): The Hyperarchivalism of the NSA’s Prism with Links

In a recently published essay, I have defined the term “hyperarchive” as “an archive whose goal, whether stated or not, can be seen in an attempt to gather together as many documents and texts as it can, regardless of content.”[1] This term clearly applies to the recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) data collection. In fact, Prism may well be the best example of a hyperarchive to date (besides the Web). To not at least gesture toward talking about Prism and massive data collection on this blog would constitute gross negligence.

One of the things that this blog consistently tries to demonstrate, draw attention to, and complicate/challenge, is the relationship between technologies of destruction and accumulation, even if only by noting (and sometimes enacting) such relationships with little-to-no commentary. I have refrained from saying much about the recent and developing story about Prism and the NSA,[2] both because it seems too “obvious” and too complex. Prism is an accumulatory technology with clear dangers and evils (which I do not think I have to spell out). Some of these dangers and evils are quite old now, and quite familiar.[3] Others are just emerging, and the potential for misusing the kind of data collected by Prism appears to be limitless. Given the parameters of the hyperarchival impulse of contemporaneity, and the reality of ubiquitous access to massive amounts of information, it is not even vaguely surprising that the NSA has been amassing massive amounts of data. And obviously there is quite a bit wrong with this (part of which is the fact that Edward J. Snowden’s revelation is not surprising).

Glen Greenwald, the writer for TheGuardian who broke this story and has been consistently reporting on it, asked nearly a month ago, “Are All Telephone Calls Recorded and Accessible to the US Government?” Most of us have probably been asking this question for a number of years. The fact that we have been asking this question seriously, for a sustained amount of time,[4] only reinforces the realities of contemporary informatics: that many of us have always tacitly assumed that we were being watched, recorded, etc., pretty much all the time. The fact that we are not much, much more upset about this scandal is probably due to this reality of contemporaneity. Thus Snowden’s whistleblowing is functioning as a confirmation of what everyone always already knew: the emperor is naked, we know, are not pretending otherwise, and don’t seem to mind. This is disturbing, to say the least.[5]

Basically, the issues being raised by the NSA scandal, the implications for thinking about information, surveillance, discipline, and control, issues regarding archives and literature, technology and war, media and communication, contemporaneity and the risk society, immigration, the nation, and the state, are many. I will not dwell on them here, in hopes that thinking about these issues will take the form of an essay (hopefully destined for a more permanent home in a [slightly] different kind of archive). In lieu of more sustained reflection and further remarks, here is a pretty decent smattering of links related to the issue in (more-or-less) chronological order. I imagine I will continue to post links regarding Prism well into the future.

A collection of Glen Greenwald’s articles (sometimes with co-authors). Greenwald has been the principal journalist covering the scandal.

“Are All Telephone Calls Recorded and Accessible to the US Government?” The Guardian (4 May 2013).

“Obama’s Terrorism Speech: Seeing What You Want to See,” The Guardian (27 May 2013).

“NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily,” The Guardian (5 June 2013).

“Verizon Forced to Hand Over Telephone Data—Full Court Ruling,” The Guardian (5 June 2013). (Has a .pdf of actual court ruling.)

“NSA Prism Program Taps into Apple, Google and Others,” The Guardian (6 June 2013). (The big one.)

“The National Security Agency: Surveillance Giant with Eyes on America,” The Guardian (6 June 2013).

“Edward Snowden: The Whistleblower Behind the NSA Surveillance Revelations,” The Guardian (9 June 2013).

Other Links:

John Markoff, “Pentagon Plans a Computer System that Would Peek at Personal Data of Americans,” The New York Times (9 November 2002).

Kieran Healy, “Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere,” Kieran Healy (9 June 2013).

“Daily Report: Dismay in Silicon Valley at N.S.A.’s Prism Project,” The New York Times (10 June 2013).

John Cassidy, “Why Edward Snowden is a Hero,” The New Yorker (10 June 2013).

Ewen McAskill, “Edward Snowden: How the Spy Story of the Age Leaked Out,” The Guardian (11 June 2013).

Aaron Bady, “Massively Open Online Police State,” The New Inquiry (12 June 2013).


[1] See Bradley J. Fest, “Apocalypse Networks: Representing the Nuclear Archive,” in The Silence of Fallout: Nuclear Criticism in a Post-Cold War World, eds. Michael J. Blouin, Morgan Shipley, and Jack Taylor (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), 102, n. 41. I also use the term “hyperarchive” in Bradley J. Fest, “The Inverted Nuke in the Garden: Archival Emergence and Anti-Eschatological Aesthetics in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest,” boundary 2 39, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 141, 147. And obviously I have used this term extensively on this blog.

[2] For the breaking of this story, see Glen Greenwald, “NSA Prism Taps into User Data of Apple, Google, and Others,” The Guardian (6 June 2013), http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data?guni=Network%20front:network-front%20main-2%20Special%20trail:Network%20front%20-%20special%20trail:Position1.

[3] Of course, as Felicity Capon reports for the The Telegraph, sales of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) have unsurprisingly skyrocketed in the wake of the NSA scandal. See “Sales of Orwell’s 1984 [sic] Rocket in the Wake of US Prism Surveillance Scandal,” The Telegraph (12 June 2013), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/10115599/Sales-of-Orwells-1984-rocket-in-wake-of-US-Prism-surveillance-scandal.html.

[4] In 2009’s Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon wonderfully goes back to the beginning(s) of the Internet and retroactively inserts contemporary paranoia about data surveillance into the 1970 of his novel. The NSA scandal might very well justify Pynchon’s famous and now fifty-year-old paranoia.

[5] Especially as someone who, for my first “serious work of literature,” read Nineteen Eighty-Four around the sixth grade.

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