It’s all about us – some bodily reflections on security in a digital age #security #social #body #divergent

securityfenceYesterday CODEC published a report I wrote on Privacy and Security in a Digital Age.  You can download a pdf of the report here. The report explores issues of security and privacy in a Digital Age. What does the internet know about us? Are we safe online? What at the implications of the Snowdon leaks and the NSA/GCHQ snooping furore? How could the Church respond to the growing issue of digital security? The report makes some recommendations about the safe use of data and the need for responsible action on the part of all users of the internet and digital applications.

One of the points the report tries to set out is that we are responsible not only for our own data security but also for others. If I release my colleagues mobile phone numbers to marketeers (sorry, Bex!) then I have compromised her security and whatever measures Bex takes to secure her identity, my stupidity has the potential to wreck them. Mutuality and social responsibility are nothing new to us, of course. We are all aware of the stories where the security of a community is breached by the weakest link – it’s one of the most common narratives built out of our nightmares that whatever we do to protect ourselves, someone else, a Judas, will destroy everything.

Almost immediately I received a tweet (via Matt Finn) pointing me to the “Security against Future Events” at Durham University.  Apparently, and thankfully, the research project which is headed by the ESRC’s Global Uncertainties Leadership Fellow, Professor Louise Amoore , has been arguing strongly that security is a social/relational thing.  Amoore argues in her various publications that it is the associations between data which are often the key to opening up security risks and contemporary algorithmic analysis is very good at making those associations. So, our social relationships and connections point to whether we are a risk just as much as the specific content. A small quote from Louise’s latest contribution to the Journal for International Political Sociology:

What is sought in the [NSA]’s vision is not the probable relationship between data on past activities and a future terrorist attack, but more specifically, a potential terrorist, a subject who is not yet fully in view, who may be unnamed and as yet unrecognizable. The security action takes place on the terrain of a potential future on the horizon, a future that can only be glimpsed through the plural relations among data points.

We are all in this together. As social animals, we are characterised by the society we keep.  Although even that has its problems. I remember going to a church in London where the pastor pointed out that eagles don’t spend time with turkeys. His point was that, if you want to be successful in the Christian life, to soar with the eagles, then you cannot afford to be a turkey or to spend time with the turkeys scrabbling around in the dust. Eagles should keep company with Eagles. I remember being ready to scream at the bloke!

Divergent-posterSo last night we went to see Divergent. A great film which is based on a similar premise:

DIVERGENT is a thrilling action-adventure film set in a world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Tris Prior is warned she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader to destroy all Divergents, Tris must learn to trust in the mysterious Four and together they must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it’s too late.
Divergent argues that we cannot simply categorise people. We are complex and the best way of being human is to be accept that complexity and remove the factions – even if that means becoming one of the factionless – the lowest of the low, the untouchables, the underclass – the turkeys. Christians are called to serve like the Abnegation faction but also to be soldiers like Dauntless and to have their minds renewed like Erudite and to keep truth like Candor and to be at peace with all like Amity. But that sometimes means we are going to be dangerous figures in a world which prefers conformity to a stereotype.
I wonder if our social relationships will, in effect, cause us some problems – as we stand up for the poor, as we query government policy, as we push for the abolition of modern slavery/human trafficking, as we argue for the continued emancipation of women in our (yet) patriarchal world.  Will we argue for greater transparency, for open source technology, for a rebalancing of corporatism? And will that mean that we re-inherit the early Christians reputation as being a threat to the empire rather than us pretending anymore that we run the empire?
Divergent ends with a trip to the end of the train tracks, to a place where there is no certainty, to a place where community is all that is important. Perhaps a community envisaged by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27?
Image from

Image from

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. And so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.




About pmphillips

Pete Phillips Bio: I'm into the New Testament (especially John's Gospel), technology, literary theory, postmodernism, football and that kind of stuff. I am married to Theresa and we have three great kids (and a Westie called Grace). I'm a Christian and love the whole church thing, which is good because I also work for the Methodist Church in the UK. My formal job titles are: Director of Research for CODEC at St John's College, Durham University and Secretary to the Faith and Order Committee of the Methodist Church.