Christian Pentzold

Whistleblowers have been instrumental in revealing the massive investments in state-sponsored and corporate digital surveillance and disinformation. Their personal accounts of what went on behind the scenes are usually presented in popular books marketed as offering insider stories. By interrogating the recapitulations of veteran data consultants, our article is interested in the way in which whistleblowers configure their role and place themselves in the context of their story in terms of agency and accountability. We examine and compare three recollections: Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record (2019), Christopher Wylie’s Mindf*ck (2019), and Brittany Kaiser’s Targeted (2019). Our analysis shows how these high-profile memoirs offer a look that is both intimate and distant. They at once promise to get close to and even behind what has escaped public scrutiny and in return try to dissociate themselves from their former trade. Their position of privileged precarity, which results from the casualization of digital labor, allows these data consultants to quickly become insiders whilst staying uncomfortable with many of the taken-for-granted ideological convictions and organizational orders. Rationalizing their involvement as disoriented diligence affords the whistleblowers the capacity to craft a story of enchantment, delusion, and subsequent awakening. Both their experiences and their position enable these disenthralled renegades to style themselves as honest moral arbiters in service of the public interest and brokers of exclusive knowledge. Full article can be read here.