Is Big Brother Downloading You And Invading Your Privacy?
Are we being monitored by technology more and more
We're living in an age of hope and terror. Hope because humanity has developed technology that would look like magic during the youth of our own grandparents. This technology makes our lives easier, safer and more enjoyable so many ways.
Whether it's knowing which exit to take on the north circular out of London or talking to somebody on the other side of the world with the same ease as we do our next door neighbour. Never before has the world been changed so much by the simple application of man-made tools. At the heart of this technological revolution is electronics. We can now create machines that can virtually think. The benefits of this power are almost limitless, indeed we've already pushed those limits a long way.
However these technological marvels are still just tools, every bit as much as the stick one of our ape ancestors picked up to break open an anthill. What they are used for is completely dependent on the person wielding them; even the most powerful computer in the world will never be able to turn to its operator and say: "Stop! I'm not going to let you use me for this."
Along with the benefits of any technology we also have to consider its potential for abuse, that it might be applied to a malevolent purpose. In 1949 George Orwell published his best known novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which he cleverly foresees much of the gadgetry we've since invented and how a tyrannical government could use it to maintain its power. These include the "telescreen", a television that also acts as a spy camera; and we've just heard that such a contraption has come true, "Smart TV" (Daily Mail 28/11/13).
This is why I was so disturbed when my ten year old daughter came home from school one day and announced: "Dad, the school want to take my fingerprints." This was the first I'd heard of it; it turns out it was announced on page 4 of the school newsletter (teach me not to read it regularly!). It said that the school would be creating a database of the pupil's fingerprints to use in an electronic registration system for the library.
They weren't asking permission, they were telling us they were going to do it. I immediately called the school and demanded to speak to the headmistress; she said that she knew nothing about it. This was surprising seeing as she was in charge of the school. She said she'd look into it and get back to me in an hour or two. She didn't.
I called her back three or four times over the next few days, but she was somehow always "out of the office". Eventually I got a response, but I was fobbed off onto the librarian. "We want to reassure you, Mr Emlyn-Jones," she wheedled, "All children are perfectly safe at this school.
The reader only takes one small segment of the print, not the whole finger, and it's stored on a highly secure encrypted database." I replied that this was not the point; once the database had been created then it would only take one decision to adapt it.
With this issue it's important to take into account capabilities, not professed intents. But my main concern was that it was psychologically and culturally conditioning the youngest members of society to accept constant monitoring with biometric ID as normal.
When they grow up they won't expect anything different, whereas adults have their memory to remind them of an alternative in the past. In Orwell's book, the character Winston Smith finds his path to freedom through memories of nursery rhymes he learned before Big Brother came to power.
It is the children Winston fears most because they were born under his rule and cannot imagine an alternative. After hearing nothing more from the school I wrote to the headmistress saying that I withholding my consent for my child to be fingerprinted or have any biometric data taken from her under any circumstances. I said that if any member of staff tried to do this I’d instructed her to refuse and refer that staff member to me. I received no reply, but my daughter was not fingerprinted.
The media is full of science pundits who gush lasciviously over every new breakthrough without ever considering if it could cause us to forge our own shackles. There is almost no function of this world now that cannot be carried out via a computer. We're even putting computers inside our bodies; yes, this has already been done. Many people now walk around with their bank details and medical records on microprocessors placed under the skin. It's been done to dogs for years.
Electronic implants will become more and more sophisticated and may end up more popular. We can use them to replace everything, even front door keys. Imagine your front door key connected to a massive computer; no more worrying about burglars. No need for cash or credit cards, you can do all your shopping on your microchip. Experts in biometrics are even proposing blending the human body with computers to the point where they merge; this is called transhumanism.
Again, its supporters are only willing to consider its benefits. We need a moment of pause to ask ourselves whether our own ideas of what is best for humanity are shared by the political classes. If all our lives are controlled by a computer then whoever controls the computer controls our lives to an extent no government has ever been able to before.
What if that ruler decides he doesn't want you to do any shopping or open your front door? What if you're no longer even a natural human and are an electronic cyborg? Then punishing dissidents couldn't be easier: just press RESTART- FORMAT. So, personally I'll stick with my keys and coins, thank you.