Modern Technologies have been used synonymously with George Orwell’s 1984 and Jeremy Banthom’s Panoticon worldview to prepare the society to all looking and all seeing The Big Brother. They have eased the living of human beings that brought the new dimension over the human civilization. The nation/state or governance and organizations have relied over the innovative technologies to mold the things for betterment as they are using them.
Technologies are perceived to ensure the comfort, luxuries, utilities and of course the security. The government and private organizations have utilized the technologies and innovation to bring the layers of securities and privacy. Yet, along with the promising benefits and comforts, technologies have brought the potential threats to put the human civilization in the extinction scenario.
Dilemmas over the use of technologies also arise in relation to risk, uncertainty and trust. The difficulties of predicting future social and political developments, and of foreseeing how technologies will develop, mean that there is always uncertainty regarding the sensitivity and security of data. Though the highly sophisticated works are eased by technologies like surveillance, data-capture and identity management, they have posed the equally sophisticated technologies and innovations to distort your privacy.
One report published by Royal Academy of Engineering (London) titled ‘Dilemma of Privacy and Surveillance, Challenges of Technological Change’ writes “Technologies such as mobile phones, number plate recognition systems, surveillance cameras and even London Transport’s Oyster card can all be used to monitor people’s daily movements.” (10)
All those technologies are having the rapidly increasing capacity for data storage, allowing the information collected using these technologies to be stored for indefinite periods. Similarly, they carry on the flexibilities to grab over all those collected data to inspect and monitor each individual’s movement all over the market and back to home.”
The report argues, “The collection, storage and processing of personal data can be of great benefit to citizens, but that users’ privacy must be protected.” Nigel Gilbert points out in the foreword of that same report that “We see the growing numbers of TV cameras in the streets and hear about biometric passports and identity fraud” (3)
Technologies for managing, searching and analysing large quantities of data occupy a distinct position on the roadmap because improvements in them (in combination with advances in connection technologies) entail significant threats to privacy. Those analyses bear the possible threat to the people privacy matters or concerns. Being those data managed, searched and analyzed is equivalent of reading someone else’s mind. Is not it scary?
The possibility of rising up of ‘The Big Brother Scenario’ is always there. “…continued advances in processing technologies mean that it is relatively simple to scan and record all forms of communications: thus, a ‘Big Brother’ can easily exist.” But the implicit mental model of Big Brother that is invoked is “curiously old-fashioned, because it is Orwell’s vision that has become so dominant. This vision is rooted in a post-war perspective with a bleak political future, where technology is used to create giant databases…” to take the control over privacy. (Dilemma. 18)
However, the danger more likely in present times is that if technology continues to evolve along current lines, ‘Big Brother’ will end up being more powerful than Orwell envisaged (in the sense that we will have far less individual privacy), though it may not be government that will be empowered. In a world of matchbox-sized camcorders and camera-phones, of always-on broadband and RFID, ordinary people (not a government agency, supermarket or the police) will be the nemesis of privacy.
The same report further explores over the issue explaining, “This form of ‘ground-level’ surveillance has been called ‘sousveillance’” (Dillema.18). By its nature it is not under control and there are no transparently obvious ways to bring it under control. If a major retailer were to abuse customers’ privacy, those customers could at least look to an industry code or to a watchdog to do something about it.
If a government department does something irresponsible with personal data, there is recourse to complain to an ombudsman. But if someone with a camera – phone takes a picture of a businessperson going to a sensitive meeting and then e-mails it to a competitor, it is hard to imagine what could be done about it. This is hardly a far-future speculation; the state of PC and Internet security is often so poor that it is already easy to do.
“A vision of the future can be found in the 2005 scandal in Israel, in which a number of businesses-including a TV company, a mobile phone operator and a car importer-apparently used a Trojan horse (believed to have been written in the UK) to spy on business rivals.” (“Dilemma” 19)
Along with, ‘The Big Brother Scenario” technology is very sure to bring ‘The Big Mess Scenario’ as well. this is close to the current situation, where connection dominates and both processing and disconnection are uncoordinated. Individuals and organizations find it difficult to disconnect and even those organizations with legitimate requirements for processing find it hard to bring together the information they need.
The Report further puts the threats that “The huge volumes of data involved and poor ‘navigation aids’ result in law enforcement having difficulty tracking links.” However, for most people, “information security is lacking, be it evidenced by hotels leaving guests’ credit card details in skips or privacy commissioners’ mobile phone records for sale on the Internet.”
Each day seems to bring new concerns that serve to undermine public confidence and make it “harder for society to reap the benefits of e-health, e-government, e-business and so on” (“Dilemma” 19).
Although the world feels quite secured with the use of the e-passwords, it poses the threat to the entire human identity with the identity frauds. According to current plans, “passports will contain increasing amounts of biometric data, stored digitally. Initially this will be a photograph and facial geometry; in future this may extend to fingerprints and iris patterns.” (“Dilemma” 21)However, problems could arise based on the way that the data are stored on RFID chips.
If the data are stored in an unencrypted form, two vulnerabilities pose problems. Firstly, someone other than passport control can read the passport. If this were possible (and it could be possible – RFID readers are easily available and someone close enough to a person carrying a passport could potentially read the information on that passport), then not only would the passport holder be revealing identity and personal information to passport control.
In addition, they could also be unwittingly revealing their personal data to ‘spies’ who had equipped themselves with readers. “These Radio Frequency eavesdroppers could use these data for identity fraud of various kinds – for example, if they could access biometric details held on the passport they could use that to access other services using biometrics (e.g., a fingerprint template could be used to commit fraud over pay-by-touch systems).”
With sensitive personal details readable over a distance, “it could even become possible, with appropriate antennas and amplification, to construct a bomb that would only detonate in the presence of a particular nationality or even a particular individual” (“Dilemma” 21).
Likewise, A. Michael Froomkin claims in his article titled ‘The Death of Privacy?’ Writing, “The cumulative and reinforcing effect of these technologies may make modern life completely visible and permeable to observers; there could be nowhere to hide” (1461). Yet another dimension added by modern technologies is Ubiquitous surveillance that takes place without any flaw within the time of a single mini second.
Unless social, legal, or technical forces intervene, it is conceivable that there will be no place on earth where an ordinary person will be able to avoid surveillance. In this possible future, public places will be watched by terrestrial cameras and even by satellites. Facial and voice recognition software, cell phone position monitoring, smart transport, and other science-fiction like developments will together provide full and perhaps real time information on everyone’s location.
Homes and bodies will be subject to sense-enhanced viewing. All communications, save perhaps some encrypted messages, will be scannable and sortable. Copyright protection “snitch ware” and Internet-based user tracking will generate full dossiers of reading and shopping habits. The move to web-based commerce, combined with the fight against money laundering and tax evasion, will make it possible to assemble a complete economic profile of every consumer. All documents, whether electronic, photocopied, or (perhaps) even privately printed, will have invisible markings making it possible to trace the author (Froomkin 1476).
Workplaces will not only be observed by camera, but also anything involving computer use will be subject to detailed monitoring, analyzed for both efficiency and inappropriate use. As the cost of storage continues to drop, enormous databases will be created, or disparate distributed databases linked, allowing data to be cross-referenced in increasingly sophisticated ways.
In the same way, Michael T. Snyder (author of the book ‘The Beginning Of The End’) enlists some of the transformational technological innovations in his article titled ‘32 Privacy Destroying Technologies That Are Systematically Transforming America into A Giant Prison.’
Synder further argues, “In America today, the control freaks that run things are completely obsessed with watching, tracking, monitoring and recording virtually everything that we do.” If we continue, the path that we are currently on, “we will be heading into a future where there will be absolutely no privacy of any kind”(Par.1).
While enlisting some of the latest technological innovations, Snyder uses the example of television that is able to collect the data in terms of what sorts of programs and advertisement are being watched. He further explains, “An IT consultant called Jason Huntley, who lives in a village near Hull, uncovered evidence that a flat-screen television, which had been sitting in his living room since the summer, was secretly invading his family’s privacy.”
While investigating the television by South Korean brand LG, “its home screen appeared to be showing him ‘targeted’ adverts — for cars, and Knorr stock cubes — based on programs he’d just been watching.” In addition, that so-called Smart Television is caught receiving and sending data regarding “not just every show he watched but every button he pressed on his remote control were being sent back to LG’s corporate headquarters in South Korea” (Par.5-7).
He further sets the possibilities of being spied on by the government in America though the people think it to be fictional when they happen to know about ‘Trapwire’ in a CBS television series. “You are being watched. The government has a secret system – a machine – that spies on you every hour of every day.” That is how each episode of “Person of Interest” on CBS begins, Synder writes. (Par. 35) Most Americans that have watched the show just assume that such a surveillance network is fictional and that the government would never watch us like that.
Sadly, most Americans are wrong. Shocking new details have emerged this week which prove that a creepy nationwide network of spy cameras is being rolled out across the United States. Reportedly, these new spy cameras are “more accurate than modern facial recognition technology”, and every few seconds they send back data from cities and major landmarks all over the United States to a centralized processing center where it is analyzed.
Thus writer believes “The authorities believe that the world has become such a dangerous place that the only way to keep us all safe is to watch what everyone does all the time. But the truth is that instead of “saving America”, all of these repressive surveillance technologies are slowly killing our liberties and our freedoms.” He further adds, “America is being transformed into an Orwellian prison camp right in front of our eyes, and very few people are even objecting to it.” (Par. 36-37)
Moreover, this reality is not of contemporary society, rather the Editors Philip E. Agre and Marc Rotenberg had talked about this debatable issue in their journal titled ‘TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY: THE NEW LANDSCAPE’ in 1998. They further asserted that “Even our interactions with the physical world can be electronically mediated, with remote cameras or microphones acting as our ‘eyes and ears,’ and solenoids or motors acting as our ‘arms and legs.’”
In personal interactions, it is common to control the identity we project by controlling what information we give out about ourselves. In electronic interactions, “our persona exists in a space that is impossible for us to monitor completely”; it is difficult to keep track of which organizations and systems “store data about us even when we have complete knowledge of where such data might reside and we seldom have such complete knowledge” (p. 871-872)
Likewise, the rapid increase in computing and communications power has raised considerable concern about privacy in both the public and private sector. Konsbruck Robert Lee writes in his article ‘Impacts of Information Technology on Society in the new Century’ “Decreases in the cost of data storage and information processing make it likely that it will become practicable for both government and private data-mining enterprises to collect detailed dossiers on all citizens.
Nobody knows who currently collects data about individuals, how this data is used and shared or how this data might be misused.” (6) These concerns lower the consumers’ trust in online institutions and communication and, thus, inhibit the development of electronic commerce. He further asserts that a technological approach “…to protecting privacy might by cryptography although it might be claimed that cryptography presents a serious barrier to criminal investigations” (6).
On the other hand, some other practices and attempts to ensure the privacy with the use of technologies have been made frequently. One among them is the publication of ‘The Privacy Technology Implementation Guide (PTIG’) by Privacy Office, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Washington, DC offers assistance to technology managers and developers in understanding privacy protections as they design, build, and deploy operational systems.
“The guide is offered pursuant to the DHS Chief Privacy Officer’s responsibilities under Section 222(1) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, as amended, to assure that the use of technologies sustain privacy protections related to the use, collection, and disclosure of personally identifiable information” (1).
However, the rise of private sectors even individuals with the innovative technologies have subverted the reality as tried to fix by US government. They distort the privacy even without making the people, who are being spied, to know about the fact of being spied on.
We cannot deny the establishment of the concept like ‘Global Village’ with the rise of easier technologies and communication that have transformed the world for sure. People argue that information and technologies have made this vast world a village with the breaking of all those geographical and physical boundaries over the vast areas with the easier and faster communication. One pole of the earth can talk with other pole without any restraints of distance.
Nevertheless, the disconnection and distortion of the communication has always led to the crumbling of the ‘Global Village’. For instance, you make a call on your cellphone thinking the only thing standing between you and the recipient of your call is your carrier’s cellphone tower. In fact, that tower your phone is connecting to just might be a booby-trap set up by law enforcement to ensnare your phone signals and maybe even the content of your calls.
Michael Synder writes in his article ’32 privacy…prison’ that “So-called stingrays are one of the new high-tech tools that authorities are using to track and identify you. The devices, about the size of a suitcase, spoof a legitimate cellphone tower in order to trick nearby cellphones and other wireless communication devices into connecting to the tower, as they would to a real cellphone tower.”
It seems quite valid to bind the technological periphery and its impacts over the nation with the implementation of the law especially ‘Right to Privacy’. Some of them have even argued that the certain use of technologies can save the privacy. Similarly, one report by The Royal Academy of Engineering (Dilemmas…change) mentions ”On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 12 states: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”(29). But what if the nation/state is spying over people? What sorts of laws do bind the NSA because it is still spying over each individual that it desires? Although the law has controlled certain places of this huge planet, some other crooked use of technologies from other corner is always rising which is unavoidable.
The concept of media sanitization sounds interesting and worthy enough, though the unauthorized trend of disclosure is always on rise. Moreover, that act of unauthorized disclosure has changed the dimension of data protection, analysis and management. A report as published by US Department of Commerce under the title ‘Computer Security’ (subtitled Guidelines for Media Sanitization) which is the Recommendations of the National Institute of Standards and Technology clarifies that “Information systems capture, process, and store information using a wide variety of media.
This information is not only located on the intended storage media but also on devices used to create, process, or transmit this information. These media may require special disposition in order to mitigate the risk of unauthorized disclosure of information and to ensure its confidentiality” (Richard et al. 1).
People have argued that media sanitization is one key element in assuring confidentiality. A loss of confidentiality is the unauthorized disclosure of information. “In order for organizations to have appropriate controls on the information they are responsible for safeguarding, they must properly safeguard used media.” The potential vulnerability can be “mitigated through proper understanding of where information is location, what that information is and how to protect it.” (Richard et al. 6-7)
The same report further articulates that there are different types of sanitization for each type of media. “We have divided media sanitization into four categories: disposal, clearing, purging and destroying.” Some media can be simply disposed if information disclosure would have no impact on organizational mission, would not result in damage to organizational assets, would not result in financial loss or would not result in harm to any individuals.
Disposal is mentioned to assure organizations that all media does not require sanitization and that disposal is still a valid method for handling media containing non-confidential information. Since disposal is not technically a type of sanitization, it will not be mentioned or addressed outside of this section (Richard et al. 7). Besides all the multilayered storage and sanitization of information along with the media, whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden still exist.
Thus, besides the massive use of information and technologies for the security, confidentiality, luxuries and comfort for the entire human civilization, technological innovations have set the beginning of end to privacy concerns. With our lacking abilities to know the fact of being spied on by the applications we use for our everyday living, they have further distorted the privacy for sure. Besides the promising good or benefits; the storage, filtration, analysis and entire management of the data have become highly sensitive and prone to the threats of being distorted. Those technological advancements have posed the fear of fragility over the data, privacy and entire human identities as well.
Froomkin, A. Michael. “The Death of Privacy?” Stanford Law Review 52 (2000): 1461-1543.
Konsbruck, Robert Lee. Impacts of Information Technology on Society in the new Century. 19 Feb. 2014. http://www.zurich.ibm.com/pdf/news/Konsbruck.pdf
Snyder, Michael T. 32 Privacy Destroying Technologies That Are Systematically Transforming America Into A Giant Prison. 27 Nov. 2013. 18 Feb. 2014. <http://thetruthwins.com/archives/32-privacy-destroying-technologies-that-are-systematically-transforming-america-into-a-giant-prison>.
The Royal Academy of Engineering. Dilemma of Privacy and Surveillance, Challenges of Technological Change. London: The Royal Academy of Engineering. 2007.
United States. Privacy Office,U.S. Department of Homeland Security,Washington, DC. Privacy Technology Implementation Guide. Washington: 2007.
United States. US Department of Commerce. Computer Security. Washington: 2004.