Each year, millions of us in the UK tune in to watch the latest series of Big Brother, but what many people don’t realise is everyday we’re increasingly taking part in a similar series ourselves. With CCTV everywhere, biometrics in passports, fingerprint scanning to enter the US and more on the way, the surveillance society of Orwell’s 1984 seems closer than ever.
With more than four million cameras, Britain is already the CCTV capital of the world and there are now plans to introduce road pricing, which will mean purchasing a tracking device to fit in your car. This device will monitor your every movement via road, pretty much the same as an oyster card does. If these plans come to fruition, we will no longer be able to travel unmonitored, unless we walk everywhere - and even then, most of us have mobile phones that are capable of pinpointing our location.
The latest example of ‘Enemy of the State’ Britain was splashed all over the front page of the Metro the day after I decided to write this blog: a story about the government’s plans to unleash a ‘super-database’ of our personal details, apparently in a bid to ‘improve public services’. It just gets better, doesn’t it?
OK, so what ‘improvements’ are the Government actually talking about? There are two main reasons why it wants to introduce all this big brother technology.
Firstly, to save itself the embarrassment of making stupid mistakes like contacting one family 44 times in a six-month period to confirm details of a fatal accident. But secondly, and more pertinently, because the Government has a real problem dealing with criminal and terrorist activity in an intelligent way.
So, as a result of its inability to find the real criminals, we’ll all be treated like one, just in case. And this is despite the fact that the government itself has admitted that approximately one third of people whose DNA records are held on police files have not been found guilty of any crime.
The madness doesn’t stop there. Just when I thought it was safe to leave the country to escape from the all seeing eye, I read about a system that the US government has been quietly operating for years – the Automated Targeting System.
Many of you reading this will have visited the states in recent years and have had your fingerprint scanned – but what you probably don’t know is that you will have been investigated and assigned a score before you even leave for home. The score is supposed to represent the terrorist threat you present, but you are not allowed to see the score, find out what information was used or challenge the score. What’s more, it is kept on a database for 40 years. This is technically illegal as it appears to contravene restrictions that forbid assigning risk scores to people who aren’t on a ‘watch list’…
We live in a world where presidents and prime ministers talk about removing dictators and introducing democracy. However, in their own countries, they plan to use technology to do the opposite, by making it compulsory to hand over biometric info and install in-car tracking devices (although we can try to fight this one by signing this petition).
This all underlines the fact that governments habitually abuse advances in technology for their own benefit – I don’t know about you, but this isn’t exactly my vision of e-Government…
(and if all this isn't worrying enough, just check out some of the other ideas currently under review by the Government)