Comrades in the Struggle Against Surveillance (Updated)

Being surveilled is not a nice feeling.  New York State legislators know it, John Liu knows it, the New York City Muslim community knows it and now a broad swath of the Wall Street elite knows it.

In a curious twist, Bloomberg looms large in two* of these episodes:  Bloomberg the mayor in the police department’s surveillance of the Muslim community and Bloomberg the company in the surveillance of Goldman Sachs and other financial industry players.  Whether it’s a meaningful connection, or just coincidence remains to be seen.

In a startling story first reported by the New York Post, the New York Times has reported that “‘several hundred’ reporters” from

“Bloomberg News, the journalism arm of Bloomberg L.P., had for years used the company’s terminals to monitor when subscribers had logged onto the service and to find out what types of functions, like the news wire, corporate bond trades or an equities index, they had looked at.”

This is primarily a story about the ease of electronic monitoring, and the contemplation of that ease by a segment of the city largely untouched by other notable recent surveillance such as the police department’s stop and frisk program or police undercovers hanging around cafes and houses of worship.  There are significant differences: who is doing the looking, what they’re looking at and the possible consequences, to name just a few.  There is a shared essence, however, of a visceral aversion to being secretly watched.

It’s also a story about the news business and it’s evolving role in broader commercial enterprises.  Although Bloomberg News differs in some ways from many of its competitors, particularly those whose related businesses tend toward entertainment rather than data-intensive investment information streams, it shares the fundamental challenge of fitting into a commercial enterprise that is primarily not a traditional news organization.  As the Times notes, when Bloomberg L.P. began it’s news business “[r]eporters often went on sales calls” and even today “many Bloomberg veterans still consider the news division solely a means to sell more terminals.”

Stay tuned.

*  John Liu has in the past suggested that Michael Bloomberg has influenced the New York Times‘ investigation of Liu’s campaign fundraising.  We’ll leave our count of Bloomberg-related episodes at two of the four we noted, however.