Big Brother 2.0 is watching you
The ubiquity of digital gadgets and sensors, the pervasiveness of networks and the benefits of sharing very personal information through social media have led some to argue that privacy as a social norm is changing and becoming an outmoded concept. Don Tapscott questions this view, arguing that we each need a personal privacy strategy.
Today Orwell's "telescreens" have been replaced by ubiquitous, ambient networked computing, where billions and shortly trillions of devices connected to networks collect real-time data. True, governments in the developed world are not totalitarian, nevertheless many advocates of personal "openness" are naïve - assuming that governments are benevolent and will act in the interests of their citizens.
Fascism, Stalinism, McCarthyism and the myriad repressive and totalitarian states of the last decades and today should remind us that our personal data can be used against us. Listen to Pete Seeger's "Knock on the Door" for a reminder. And today, in the name of national security, governments are collecting real-time information from us, sampling phone calls, emails, social networks and taking our biometrics at airports and a growing list of other places.
I was reminded of the dangers recently when meeting Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab, which monitors and fights against government attempts to use the Internet against its citizens. The meeting was cut short because he had a situation to deal with. The Syrian government had created a "phantom Facebook" and was using that to harvest names and personal data of dissidents, presumably so they could hunt them down and kill them.
"However this could never happen here," you say? We as a matter of fact have very little idea specifically what governments are doing with the flood of personal information about us. And the aftermath of Sept. 11 should remind us just how quickly our civil liberties can be undermined in the name of national security. Everywhere in democratic societies, governments are campaigning to intrude into our private lives to collect more information. In the U.K., the "Intercept Modernisation Plan" would permit authorities to intercept every form of online communication, all in aid of vague goals of fighting crime.
Recently the New York Times reported that "law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight."
The Times reports that this practice has become big business for cellphone companies, too, as carriers market a catalogue of "surveillance fees" to police departments to determine a suspect's location, trace phone calls and texts or provide other services.
There should be no tapping of phones or anything else without due process. If a government agency proposes to set up video camera in your neighbourhood, you need to decide if the benefits of possible crime reduction outweigh the possible dangers of unknown governments being able to watch you constantly.
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