The totalitarian dystopia of the World Economic Forum
An article by Norbert Häring appearing in Real World Economic Review blogs on 17 April 2020  addresses issues which have arisen in the context of a pilot project commissioned in January 2018 by the World Economic Forum for the surveillance of air travellers. The project was agreed to at a WEF meeting at Davos, in Switzerland. At the time, Häring described the Known Traveller Digital Identity (KTDI) project as a “totalitarian dystopa”.
A follow-up report has indicated that the multinational corporations involved are successfully involving governments and the EU in particular in their surveillance plans. The advent of the Covid-19 virus appears to be speeding up the implementation tremendously and Bill Gates inadvertently has let us know how this will take place.
According to Häring’s article:
“ Like the 2018 report – ‘The Known Traveller: Unlocking the potential of digital identity for secure and seamless travel’ – this more technical KTDI White Paper that goes by the title ‘Known Traveller Digital Identity Specifications Guidance’ was published without any fanfare on the Internet in March. These reports, prepared by the consulting firm Accenture, are meant to be read only by people in the digital surveillance and security business. For understandable reasons, these people prefer to talk about digital identity rather than digital control or surveillance.
“ This is how the scheme is supposed to work: We upload information about us into a database – or authorize others to do so. First of all, this should be a proof of identity from the authorities, but also our travel history, bank data, hotel accommodations, rental car bookings, documents from universities, government offices and much more. If we want to cross a border, we give the authorities access to this database in advance, so that they can see beforehand that we are harmless. Using facial recognition and our (ideally) biometrically linked smartphone, they can recognize us at the border crossing. If we have been diligent enough in providing data, we will be allowed to walk past the queues of other travellers, receiving preferential treatment and minimal checks.
“ But, as it says in the first KTDI report, if there is any doubt as to a traveller’s intentions, the border official can, on the basis of the information provided in advance, ask the person more in-depth questions – for example to better under- stand his recent activities.
“ We can easily imagine how ‘voluntary’ the data release will be once the system has been established. It will be of this sort: you can freely choose if you want to come into the country – and hand over the key to your data – or if you prefer to stay out. A test-run is now being carried out by the border authorities of Canada and Holland, with air- lines Air Canada and KLM at Toronto, Montreal and Amsterdam airports.
“ Participating corporations, such as Visa and Google, are not developing such a system for the police authorities at their own expense purely out of a cosmopolitan sense of duty. The 2018 KTDI report and the current White Paper both state that self-monitoring at the border serves to create a critical mass of participants in the globally inter-operable data-sharing standard that is to be introduced.
“ The border authorities are simply the ideal catalyst for a global system of citizen-assisted mass surveillance and data sharing, gradually involving all the world’s governments. Once the US and a few other large countries take part in that scheme, the citizens of a country whose government refuses to participate will have great difficulty travelling internationally.
“ Once all governments will have signed up to this standard for the forced voluntary exchange of data with citizens, it is envisioned that we will also be allowed to hand over our data in everyday inter- actions with companies and authorities. In both reports, the areas mentioned are elections, banking, health, education and humanitarian aid. “
A global, totalitarian system
The KTDI White Paper makes clear the great ambition of the project, as is summarised in its conclusions:
“ This paper outlines the ambition for KTDI to provide the foundations for a globally accepted decentralised identity ecosystem. Further development and wider adoption depend on maximizing data exchange interoperability and federated trust. Success will rest upon cooperation between world governments, regulators, the aviation industry, technology providers and other players to establish global standards and specifications for compliance by all stake- holders.
“ The conditions for enforcing this global surveillance standard are excellent. The Known Traveller project uses technical standards for verifiable credentials and decentralized identifiers as they are currently being developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) . W3C is the most important standards-setting body for the Internet and is dominated by US-American Internet and telecomunications companies.
“ W3C’s members overlap strongly with those of the Decentralized Identity Foundation, which multinationals such as Microsoft and many smaller companies in the digital security industry have founded to advance global identity control standards. The companies that make up this group often have very close ties to the intelligence community. US Homeland Security has been involved in the Know Traveller project from the beginning. At the relevant digital identity forums, representatives of the companies of the digital identity and security industries mingle with representatives of all the relevant security and intelligence agencies. “
Forced voluntariness Häring goes on to say that the trick is the fiction of voluntariness, the explicit, if extorted, consent to the use of data, which you have to give every time you want to receive a government service in this system or if you just want to pay anything digitally. This is similar to what happens to you if you move around the World Wide Web today. You constantly have to voluntarily agree to monitoring requests of the website operators or simply choose to stay away.
“ The envisaged global system has a particularly pernicious aspect, which makes a mockery of the oft-advertized autonomy and control of those who supposedly own their data:
Identity attributes are attested to and provided by issuing authorities (i.e. passport number, bank details. An issuing authority may also revoke a VC (virtual credential) that it had previously issued by updating the blockchain- based cryptographic accumulator accordingly.
“ Imagine what it will look like when this system is implemented as intended throughout the world, in every country, however repressive. Let us assume that the abolition of cash – which is being driven forward in parallel by more or less the same group of corporations and agencies – is successfully completed. For everything you want to do or pay, you depend on there being a tick in the right places in the database on you. If you fall out of favor with your own government, it might remove the tick from your identity information and screw you, even if you are not in the country. Your bank can do the same.
“ If this happens to you, you can try to keep it up for a while. But ultimately, you might have to do what the hero in the science fiction “Soleil à Credit” (Sun on Credit) by Michel Grimaud (1975) had to do. When his electronic card,
which everyone needs to move around and to get rations, was confiscated by an automatic checking machine, he voluntarily reported at the prison gates and stayed voluntarily in prison until he was released, because otherwise he would have starved.
“,If the US government or one of the algorithms controlled by its agencies have someone in the world within their sights, they can do the same thing.
Either they get the respective government or banks to invalidate all digital documents of the target person, or the US internet corporations that control the system can do so, or the private US credit rating agencies slash the credit rating.
“ Much of this is already possible today and being done, though not frequently to individuals. But the system will only be comprehensive and perfect when there is a globally accepted technical standard that allows access to all these data and documents from anywhere.
Only then will Washington (or rather Fort Meade and Langley) be able to control from their home computers everyone in every participating corner of the world. At the same time, national authoritarian governments will be able to control everyone in their own sphere of influence, whether they are at home or abroad.
“ This is the agenda behind the intense work that USAID, Gates and the World Economic Forum are doing, together with the help of a dependent UN, to create digital identities for every person on the globe. They are working through ID4Africa, ID2020 and a dozen more such initiatives and consortia with ID in their names. “
Commentary from Ikonoclast:
I don’t want to sound flippant but who really thinks the species homo sapiens will last even until the year 2100? There are quite a few top scientists who do not think so. Given climate change, sea level rise, the 6th mass extinction event including “insectageddon”, ocean biome death, the ubiquitous micro- plastics. hormone-mimicking pollution and the rise of zoonotic diseases (take a bow COVID-19), I think we can say that homo sapiens is in a lot of trouble. If I were to pick a probability I would say there is not better than a 50% chance that humans will even be around in 2100.
In a way, I think Häring is worrying about the wrong things. I say this notwithstanding that I oppose corporate totalitarianism. A corollary of the high likelihood that homo sapiens will be extinct by 2100 is that if a remnant of the human race survives until then, then the world will look nothing like it does now. Much further growth in ever-increasing technological complexity and in ever-increasing sets of totalizing, totalitarian, global mono-system linkages are essentially impossible given the imminence of resource limits (including the limits of wastes sinks and bio-services) and consequent civilization collapse.
Rather than this corporate wet-dream of total global control via big data, we will see dystopias – plural – arriving by uneven regional collapses, climate refugee waves, mass deaths from heat stroke in tropical areas, superstorms, super-droughts, super- floods and so on as the biosphere earth systems destabilize. I expect regional wars, proxy wars, civil wars and so on to break out nearly everywhere. It will be a good effort if we avoid a full nuclear exchange followed by nuclear winter.
I predict that global travel will never recover from the current Covid-19 induced collapse. Very few people ever again will be (a) able to afford global travel and (b) want to travel anywhere when half of the world is disintegrating in any case. Note I wrote “disintegrating”. To expect further global integration, even corporate totalitarian integration, on the cusp of limits-to-growth disintegration is to really worry about entirely the wrong things.
Who would believe that the USA and EU, as corporate dominated and run entities now, could even organize this? (China perhaps could.) The US and EU can’t even organize a pandemic response. That’s how hopeless they are in their sclerotic system-collapse twilight. Our systems are already disintegrating before our eyes. I find it very hard to lend credence to an hypothesis of further super-integration in a plainly imminent future of near total collapse.