I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

I am personally of the belief that no government would want to waste their time following me around and examining the patterns of a fairly mundane life. That said, if I ever became a person of interest to any government, I would not be willing to let any government have an accepted right to engage in persistent information gathering without due process. In the age of the internet, and cities (like London) with massive amounts of video surveillance, it is all too easy for massive amounts of information to be gathered about even the most mundane of lives, for the purposes of entrapment or harassment or condemnation.

It is often easy to poke fun of the paranoia that often fills political commentary of a particular stripe, but sometimes it does not appear as if the paranoia is far off from rational concern about the growing appetite for aggregated data about the behavior of honest citizens among untrustworthy governments. And in the absence of trust, the information that is safe for others to have may be rather limited. Hopefully, the rule of law can be preserved to keep these limits strong, even in the face of massive desires for increased information-gathering capabilities on the part of governments whose tastes for mischief appear unbounded.

The specific cause for this particular entry is a story I received in my e-mail yesterday [1] concerning a high-tech surveillance system called Trapwire. Without going into all of the shady business dealings of the company who designed this particular system for use by the United States government, which has been amply covered already on wikileaks [2], I thought it would be worthwhile to briefly examine why this technology is so problematic.

The claims that the people who have developed and marketed this technology, and others, have made is frightening. These claims include the ability to track people over time and over multiple distances by aggregating different surveillance information together in order to determine patterns of behavior. Letting governments have the privilege, without any search warrant, to collect information about random people and aggregate it together to determine their patterns of behavior, with the intent to find something wrong in their conduct, is an extremely dangerous road to travel upon. After all, there are none of us whose lives are without spot and blemish, and giving any government the right to collect information about us and then decide what it is that we can be called to account for is not something I am willing to accept.

Like so many other problems in life, this is a problem of trust. If one could trust others to use information in a proper and restrained fashion, there would be little difficulty in such technologies. But trust is a currency in very short supply, and that absence of trust makes everything a more difficult and unpleasant problem. There is surely a difference between suspicion grounded on firm knowledge and paranoia, but the greater the desire of governments to collect information on their own people, the smaller that distance becomes. After all, while few of us (and certainly not I) are interested in bringing down governments or engaging in acts of terrorism, as a person who is critical of corruption in high places whether in my country or abroad, I am very aware that the definition of an enemy of the state could very easily include me.

And in that light, there is really no way that unlimited tracking of people without a search warrant is going to be acceptable for someone in my position. Currently, the large amount of data that it would take to collect meaningful information about people is a barrier to widespread abuses, but if the capability is there and the ethical and moral behavior of governments remains in question (as it does), then the ability to put someone under surveillance for an indefinite period of time, gathering information in the hope of finding something juicy, is unacceptable. If we were able to trust our government, or other governments, these problems would not be as serious, but that trust is lacking precisely because the limited powers of governments and businesses are consistently abused. And once people endure abuse, they are not inclined to let others hurt them the way others have before. Whether it’s fair or not, that’s how it goes.

[1] http://io9.us1.list-manage.com/track/click?u=251e609e1dba3888b86c21cc8&id=eaa6282edb&e=177644afa0

[2] http://io9.us1.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=251e609e1dba3888b86c21cc8&id=dace29b6c1&e=177644afa0

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Deleted E-Mails Of Hillary Clinton: A Parody | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Rogue Justice | Edge Induced Cohesion

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