On the Brink Of Total Privacy Invasion

Originally Posted by Onegai:

Watchfulness

Over the many years technology has evolved and with it, the mindsets of the human race as a whole. Governments have come and gone and empires have crumbled. But one trend that is as old as the idea of “society” itself has remained static. This is the desire by those in power to control those who aren’t. And as technology has evolved, so have the restraint collars that the governments of the world hold on us.

Let me begin by saying that I’m not a conspiracy theorist and, in fact, hold these people in quite a large amount of contempt. I rely on fact and observation to draw a conclusion.

I’ll draw your attention to a mini-article I wrote (But have since deleted in favour of a more lengthy one – this one actually) some time ago regarding the invasion of privacy at airports. Let’s just go over that again briefly. Basically, the U.S. and U.K. customs authorities (among others) have the right to rummage through any data storage device that you are carrying upon entry into said country. This includes but is not limited to digital cameras, laptops, cellphones and even your ipod. The authorities can view your personal videos, photos and documents with impunity because they are on a blood hunt for plans to blow up the Empire State Building or Big Ben. So God help the poor schmuck who did some dirty things with his/her lover and recorded it for fun. Or a more innocent example would be the girl/guy who wrote some personal and perhaps rather “emo” poetry that now gets smirked at as the authorities are busy reading it. How about a lawyer/psychiatrist with classified client information on their laptop? Or maybe you’re an amateur writer who produced a masterpiece work of fiction only to have it plagiarised before you can even get it published because some prick working in customs saw a way to make cash by stealing your creative work.

Already many countries are monitoring all chat-room messages, e-mails and mxit conversations, etc. coming in or going out of their domain. While there’s no guy in a suite with shades and an ear-piece sitting reading as you type, there are massive servers where the data is stored. That data is checked for certain keywords and phrases by a bunch of machines that flag the “suspicious” communications. These suspect ones are then checked by human experts to see if there is anything untoward contained in them. Of course if the experts find “probable cause” in any of your communications, they will go as far as to spy on you for an unspecified amount of time until they’re convinced you’re not a threat.

Iran and Burma (to mention some) have begun a ban on the use of proxies. This is an attempt to prevent users from bypassing the censorships imposed on the internet by these country’s governments. Now Iranian and Burmese users can no longer access anti-government or pro-human rights sites (or pornography sites lol), or anything that the government doesn’t want its people to see. This trend is a particularly nasty one as not only do proxies help bypass a country’s internet censorship but also provide users with the safety of anonymity.

Most first-world nations have surveillance cameras on just about every lamp post in their heavy Metropolises. Even South Africa has joined this trend.

SIM card registration has become very obligatory in many countries and has officially taken effect now in South Africa. The interesting thing about this is that technically one’s movements can be completely tracked if their cellphone number is known because the cellphone is in constant communication with its nearest tower even when a call is not being made. You see pre-paid users, the user’s name was anonymous so one’s number was not known. Now, with a database of cellphone users, somebody with authority could type in a name, get their corresponding cellphone number and their current location.

So now let’s add this all up and what have we got? Quite possibly the beginning of a totally surveillance based society. There are many internet users who claim “There’ll always be a way” as far as private communication and data exchange is concerned. Yes, maybe there will always be a way, but it will be reserved for the God-level users. Gone will be the days of the “anon” (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, don’t worry about it). That day will be a sad one because being anonymous gives one the confidence to say things and share things that one would never talk about to people in the physical world.

Just for one moment, picture this kind of power in the wrong hands. What if that wrong person had access to check every internet site you ever visited and everything you ever said online? They could destroy you. I mean be honest; we’ve all said a few nasty things on a forum or two. Somebody with the right clearance could stalk you, should one of those nasty posts you made piss him/her off.

While I understand that terrorism has greatly impacted on many lives; I do not believe that this surveillance based society is the way to protect the general population. Simply put, no terrorist is going to carry files on his data storage device containing his plans to blow up City Hall. I cannot imagine a terrorist having a laptop containing a file called “Plans To Blow Up The Airport.doc” on his person. Terrorists are insane, but not that stupid.

I’m not saying a world devoid of anonymity is without merit, but there is a definite human rights issue question here. For the longest time our privacy has been one of our most intrinsic rights, but maybe that time has come to an end. We all have skeletons in our closet and I think that we have the right to keep them there. I have also always believed in our right to free thinking and the right to express our disagreement with the powers that govern us. It’s double-edged sword really. This level of surveillance is a deterrent to some criminals but it comes at a price – an extremely high one. You have to ask yourself though, “Is my life clean enough and are my secrets mundane enough that I’d feel comfortable with others knowing them?”

It could only be a matter of time before everything we say/do/watch/buy is compiled into a huge database. Imagine that; a world where we have no privacy whatsoever. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. As I said earlier, I rather detest these people. This article is merely based on fact. There is a small extrapolation that I have made towards the end which is a logical one based on evidence but I do not for one minute hold categorically that it will come true. All I’m saying is that it’s possible.

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