It was around the mid 60′s that that I had to face the right of passage for virtually every school kid, reading George Orwell’s 1984. It was a gloomy picture that Orwell painted. Personal freedom had been eroded, people were mere slaves to the will of the privileged few.
Unfortunately Orwell did to an extent write the truth. And while not wishing to sound like a Luddite, it is our technological success that is bringing about our downfall.
There are numerous articles floating around themed ‘Living Under The Radar’. The concept is simple, live without people having tabs on what you are doing and where you are. That is easier said than done!
Let us explore some areas.
The cell phone has changed the world, but it comes at a price. Carry one and someone with the right skills can tell where you have been. This does not involve the fancy GPS feature found on many smart phones, merely analyzing which cell towers communicated with the phone gives a decent idea of your travels.
Next is CCTV, or Closed Circuit TV, surveillance cameras. These are everywhere. The technology has dropped in price so much that every commercial establishment can afford them. I live in a small town, yet my local gas station/convenience store boasts an 8 camera system, or to put it in simple terms there is a camera for every 10 x 10 feet of floor space. The same applies to my local bank, it is a small branch, but it has more cameras than a Hollywood movie studio!
Then of course we have the internet. Most people seem gloriously unaware of this Pandora’s Box. Facebook alone boasts over 700 million members, many of which happily share information for all to enjoy. I’m going out of town for the weekend. What a gift to someone that might wish to burglarize your home.
It is however the ‘official’ monitoring that bothers me. As digital storage plummets in price and physical size, it is becoming possible to keep data indefinitely. 50 years ago the cost of a 5 megabyte hard drive was almost $100,000 How much is 5 megabytes? It is equivalent to three floppy disks, or about 5 minutes of MP3 music. That same 5 megabytes today costs a very small fraction of 1 cent!
This means that governments and companies can become obsessive hoarders of data. From what you buy at your local supermarket, to where you have been and who you have called is all squirreled away. The emails that you have sent and received, the web sites you have visited all neatly documented for potential future use.
But so what? Who has the time or resources to read all this stuff? Enter the world of Data Mining. Using sophisticated software tools these large and often disparate data sets can be analyzed easily to pull out the ‘interesting’ stuff.
While some may argue that for us in the US who cares? If you have nothing to hide, it is unimportant that some one can data mine and learn that you like Sharp Cheddar Cheese, French Bread, and unsalted Butter.Â They are right, it is an insignificant fact. But what other information might the local supermarket have? If you use a store discount card, they have your name, address, and probably your phone number. If you pay by Credit or Debit Card, or check maybe they have that information living within their database. Now it becomes a little more of a concern. How safe if this data? In the wrong hands suddenly someone with nefarious plans have the tools to scam you.
Of greater concern though is what if the snooper is not some Russian hacker trying to steal credit cards but the government? Now it does become Orwellian very quickly. The opportunity for quietly profiling citizens becomes a very harsh reality.
It may not seem like a big issue here in the US, but it certainly is a very large potential issue in some other countries, ones with repressive regimes.
I was contacted some time time ago by a dissident in Myanmar (Burma). He went to great lengths to conceal his identity, life was good for several months, then he made a mistake. A video was sent to CNN via cell phone. That was the last I heard of him. I have no clue if he is alive, but I do wonder if he became a victim of data mining.