Monday, June 04, 2007

Surveillance Society for Fun and Profit

I'm looking at this satellite image from Google of the US Embassy in Baghdad, and it occurs to me this world must be totally mad. 8-year-olds have access to technologies that, 50 years ago, only the CIA had.

I call up D to express my utter amazement at the state of affairs here in this Earth-World, and he replies quite casually that it's because the people in charge fear no man or woman.

What will you, human, be able to do in 50 years with your computer? This is a good question to ask when you wish to consider what your government can do with their computers today.

Consider street-level surveillance. The new Google Street View is provoking all sorts of reactions, ranging from fascination with the new feature's novelty to outrage at the new feature's intrusiveness. The ability of governments to surveil citizens at the street-level far surpasses what is offered by Google Street View.

Imagine typing any person's name into a database, and automatically being able to watch him or her everywhere he or she goes. All those private surveillance cameras everywhere - in ATMs, in stores, in bars and resturaunts - are not so private. All electronic devices give off electromagnetic radiation that can be detected and decoded. All those private surveillance cameras are really un-secure wireless cameras. It is possibe to geolocate an individual camera based on slight differences in the time at which its signal is detected at different locations. This geolocation information can be correlated with the GPS data transmitted by your cellphone tracking device.

Whether a scheme like this is currently in use or not, it is not far-fetched. Authoritarian regimes have an interest in making the populace at all times aware of the possibility of surveillance. If nothing else, this makes the populace more likely to self-censor.

Of course, many people are not too worried about the threat of constant surveillance. Many people break no laws. This is fine.

But if we are, in fact, watched so closely, it is because we are managed like cattle.

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