Is Big Brother getting bigger?
You may have noticed less on privacy and surveillance issues recently. Don’t get excited – it’s not because I’m no longer interested in these important topics. It’s more about me being somewhat sidetracked by stuff I’ve had to prepare for work and some of the interesting stuff I’ve come across that I’ve been blogging about since the start of 2008. But…..today….I have to bring you this. When you read a list of what surveillance tools there currently are and what are being proposed – that’s when it hits you (hopefully) and you really start to ponder the erosion our civil liberties. I’ve blogged on many of the surveillance tools and techniques I’m about to list before but this post will serve as a good refresher.
ThinkingShift reader, Robyn, sent me a link to this article from People. I’ve been reading similar stuff recently about how the personal details of our lives are increasingly exposed. It’s bad enough that the personal details of 25 million people held on 2 computer discs went missing in the post in the UK in late 2007 (and the UK Government mysteriously waited for 10 days before alerting people). We also have to contend with (and in my case dodge) CCTV, our email details being sold, Google monitoring our searching behaviour and so on. My business email address has recently been hit with “how to enlarge your penis” advertising (most useful, not!) from a slew of different companies, so I suspect somehow my email address has been sold. Apart from being annoying, I object to people using my existence and all the personal information surrounding said existence as a commodity to be bought and sold.
Anyway, here’s what we can look forward to in the way of bugging, monitoring and surveillance:
- remote control helicopters (or spy drones) fitted out with miniature cameras, zooming around
- smart cards for pupil’s so parents can check attendance, how kiddy is doing at school or what’s being eaten from the cateen, and the results of drug tests (let’s get ’em young so they never know that privacy is an option!)
- microchip implants for kids so parents can track them (heck, we microchip dogs and cats, why not kids). I do realise that in this day and age of violence and wackos, keeping tabs on your kid is probably a sensible thing
- lamp-posts fitted out with mini-cameras so whoever is watching us can eavesdrop on street conversations
- biometric tests for job seekers to highlight genetic illnesses (really scary I think)
- psychometric profiles to check out the lifestyles of proposed employees (if you’re different, you might not be tolerated)
- a new service, 192.com, is probably more intrusive than Google Maps or Street View. It can zoom in close enough to identify individuals
- some insurance companies are apparently insisting that satellite tracking systems be installed in the cars of young drivers as a condition of giving them insurance cover.
- fingerprinting, happens already as we know. But there’s talk of a huge database called “Server in the Sky” (an FBI initiative), which would involve the UK, Australia, the US, Canada and New Zealand forming a consortium to set up an international biometric tracking database. Just the proposed name of this database scares the heck out of me! Bad enough that the FBI, within 15 mins of a trans-Atlantic flight taking off, receive details of every passenger’s name, birthdate, address, gender, phone number, email address, credit card details and nationality under an EU deal.
- passports with RFID
- DNA collection and storage
- helmet cams – police in the UK apparently already have this ability. Mini cameras allowing police to record people they speak to whilst on duty.
- pre-paid Oyster card system. Whenever I’m in Hong Kong, I see these cards and I’m sure they’re useful to pay for transport tickets, newspapers and other stuff. In the UK though, which also has Oyster cards, there was a 300% increase in police using the Oyster system to track suspects, which has led to fears of a black market in these cards
- internet searches tracked by Google (and let’s not forget in 2006 AOL accidentally released details of 650,000 users’ search queries)
- can cams – I do find this hard to believe, but apparently there are miniature cameras put into tins of baked beans or drinks to catch people illegally dumping rubbish. But if The Times Online is reporting it, it must be true!
- mobile/cell phone tracking. Even if you switch your phone off to avoid detection, signals are logged by phone towers and the strength of the signal can be measured through triangulation to pinpoint your whereabouts
- Loyalty cards – I never use these. Someone once told me that you’d have to spend a load of money in supermarkets just to get a reward flight from Sydney to Melbourne. But what they track is your buying behaviour and experts say that they can be used to predict major life events. I can see the day when health insurance companies say people who buy food not on their “approved list” will be denied cover.
- and there’s the usual assortment of CCTV cameras – on buses, trains, streets, public spaces.
I know that people disagree with me, but I really think the future will be a battle over privacy. And we’ll see a whole black market rising up around how to dodge all of the above. One of my favourite shows is the West Wing (still watching all the reruns) and I always remember this quote from Rob Lowe’s character, Sam Seaborn:
In the twenties and thirties it was the role of Government. Fifties and Sixties it was civil rights. The next twenty years it will be about privacy. The internet. Cell phones. Health records. And who is gay and who is not. Besides in a country born on the will to be free what could be more fundamental than this?