Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Privacy Lost

Interesting week-long series of articles over at MSNBC.com, entitled "Privacy Lost," on the erosion of personal privacy in our increasingly computerized age.

Yesterday's instalment: Privacy under attack, but does anybody care?

And this morning, the second instalment: On privacy, talk and actions are poles apart.

Get this: "Nearly 20 percent [of Americans surveyed] said they would have a tiny microchip implanted under their skin that could be used to identify them and access their medical histories."

I hate to say it, but the battle for privacy has probably already been lost. The juggernaut advances, often unnoticed, or noticed but unheeded. What today is experimental will tomorrow be optional; and the day after that, not-so-optional: if not outright mandated, then harder and harder to live without, unless you're willing to go off the grid altogether.

We're not too many years away from a state of "total information" surveillance like George Orwell couldn't have imagined in his worst nightmares. Nonetheless, I for one don't intend to go down without a fight. Some of it is simple, as simple as not accepting those damn discount cards at your local supermarket. (As Mr. Rogers would say: "Can you say 'data-mining'?") Some of it is not so simple: I've blogged before, in gory detail, about encrypted and anonymized websurfing.

As Neal Stephenson put it, "If you don't like having your choices made for you, you should start making your own."



Blogger The Tetrast said...

That under-the-skin chip has been in the works for years. There was an unveiling back in the late 1990s, some Clinton cabinet member attended it and praised the product, and somehow the word "angel" was connected with the product, I forget the containing phrase. The idea was for old people to have it in case they got hurt or disoriented. At the same time the press release was quite odd, it seemed to be downplaying some aspects. I saw to it that the release and its oddity got some publicity in NYC and certain other places.

There will always be very reasonable reasons, compelling medical incentives, etc., for the March of Progress into scary Brave New Worlds.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006 5:59:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Yeah, I can imagine all sorts of moves that could lend momentum to the push for a chip under the skin. Of course doing it for the elderly. And also chips for children ("Won't someone please think of the children?!"). And I can imagine the insurance companies pressing for chips under the skin to help streamline our ever-more-costly health care industry. (From where I sit, I've seen a lot in the past few years of the insurance companies pressing for ever-more-burdensome rules and strictures to help cap soaring premiums which nonetheless just keep on soaring.) And then one can imagine national-security pressure for the chip as a sort of national-identity-card-under-the-skin, never mind that terrorists and other malefactors would be the first to easily latch onto counterfeits made to order.

I think it'll be a long, long time before it becomes nigh impossible to elude surveillance. It's still quite possible to do. But I think we're coming up rapidly on the point where hanging onto one's privacy will call for more effort and know-how than most people are willing/able to invest.

This whole privacy issue is one of several reasons why I switched over to Linux three years ago. I will for the foreseeable future be running under Linux, on an old pre-DRM-hardware computer, with all those nifty encrypted-and-anonymized-browsing safeguards in place. Not always in use, but in place for whenever I want to use them. To me, it's been worth it. But most people aren't going to switch over to an entirely new (and rather technical) operating system, just because it's more secure; or install some rather technical software so that no one can trace them or eavesdrop on them when they visit that radical hippie-freak anarchist website. Thus the net draws ever tighter around most people.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006 11:37:00 AM  

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