I received a ‘Opal’ card yesterday. Free public transport is a perk of my occupation, but loaded with the understanding that, like Superman stepping into a phone booth, we may have to leap into the fray at a moment’s notice, minus firearm, minus capsicum spray, minus baton, minus handcuffs, and minus radio. ICE addicts being pain-resistant and super-humanly strong, at least there’s the warm glow of a state-funded funeral to bolster your confidence as you throw yourself unarmed at some psycho going berserk. Good deal for Joe Public, but good deal for me? I’m not so sure. But not for the reasons you might think.
The day before yesterday, I had a smart device pushed onto me. A choice between a work-phone or a work-tablet. I went with the tablet not just because dual-phonage makes you look like a drug dealer, but because the boss can’t plague me with emails the way he can with calls and texts. Just because he lives the job 24/7 does not mean I want to. You’d think me telling him to his face “no I don’t want a phone or tablet’ would be enough, but he is persistent. As I recounted to my wife afterwards, the definition of power is being able to compel others to your way, even when your way is wrong. But again, this is not just about the work-v-life balance.
Thirdly, after years as a Sony-fanboy I yielded to the pressure and invested in an iPhone. Knowing what I know, I immediately disentangled myself from the ‘cloud’ and rejected location services. A glance at the terms and conditions of the latter explains why: your phone is a tracking device which cannot be switched off. Sure, you can disable any formal sharing of your movements, but there’s still a ping. The fact that Apple has publicly decried decryption efforts by law enforcement just means your data is (relatively) safe from intrusion: they do not and cannot disguise your movements. But I can’t blame anyone except myself for this, I bought the bloody thing.
Paranoia, right? The right-wing argument has always been that you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide, with the flip-side being that anyone concerned with privacy must be up to no good. Even though I work for the bastards, I value my privacy; but because I work for the bastards I know what all this stuff is being used for. The passive collection of private information is rampant, and all those infernal databases are vulnerable to attacks both legal and illegal. Wikileaks is just the most famous example; the ‘Panama Papers’ the most recent.
You can’t enter or leave the country without a handprint scan and facial-recognition check being conducted. You can’t walk through town without being captured on cctv. I can’t swing a baton into a prostitute’s face without it hitting YouTube (kidding!!) or getting Kik’ed. We are all to blame. We invite surveillance of ourselves, and contribute en-masse to the surveillance of others. I mean, can you think of a single significant incident anywhere in the world in the last five years that hasn’t been posted within seconds of it happening? Good luck.
Maybe it’s my age that makes me hesitate. I don’t use my own name on this site, or any other site. The one picture I’ve uploaded is old and indistinct. I’ve never outright mentioned my occupation, nor where I work or live. To guess any of that, you need to read some posts, and for the casual unfriendly that’s probably too much of an ask, attention spans being what they are these days. Yet my real identity has been ‘discovered’ by people, much to my discomfort. My anonymity is precious, but not guaranteed. For me it’s a name: ask yourself if there’s anything out there that you wish you could take back. Any explicit photograph, any dangerous comment, any legal admission, any drunken proposition. Fingers crossed nobody ever finds it, because that’s literally all you can do now: cross your fingers and hope.
True, there are legal thresholds to be cleared before government agencies can stalk you in any serious way via social media, phone records, gps signals, etc. Usually, their reasons are benign. Suicidal persons are often tracked via their phone; missing persons, runaways, dementia patients, mental health absconders, etc. — all benign uses of this invasive tech. But technology isn’t a warm blanket, it’s a rifle, and personal information is a bullet. This metaphor fails because a man with a rifle and one bullet can only shoot you once. A man who can access your private information can shoot you any time he wants, and he can shoot you forever.