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Jul. 24 2010 - 10:24 am | 4,193 views | 1 recommendation | 9 comments

You will be watched while you read this

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Rounding a bend in the road around a local airport the other day, I glanced to the left and saw a cop sitting in the grass off the pavement. The white SUV was easy to see. The guy wasn’t trying to hide, but he didn’t need to because people love to come whipping around this particular stretch of road — it lends itself to speeding — and probably a few of them can’t slow down soon enough and shoot past the cop’s position.

As I passed him, however, I was struck by a very depressing thought: The day is coming when your car — your very own, much loved member-of-your-family automobile — ┬áis going to fink on you, rat you out, and otherwise get you in trouble.

Oh, yeah. Because eventually cars will have a communication system that by law will have to be able to communicate with the police. This will be factory-installed in the name of safety. It will amount to this: You’ll pass by a cop’s location, and your car will tell the laptop in his car how fast you’re going.

Don’t think so? Live long enough, you’ll get to enjoy this and much more. Rental car companies are already letting subcontractors spy on you and fine you. Retailers are tagging their crappy clothes so that they can track your movements and spending habits. A respected American aircraft manufacturer, maker of one of the aeronautic icons of WWII, is proud to offer a high-altitude, long-flying spy drone that will undoubtedly spy on Americans. I’ve already written a post about the day when the Earthly landscape itself spies on you using “smart dust.”

I hate all this because I’m getting intensely beleaguered of being observed, tracked, and otherwise spied upon in “the Land of the Free.” I must point out, however, that at times I submit voluntarily to observation either because I simply can’t get around it, or a desired activity results in observation.

This blog and also my Facebook profile are examples of that voluntary action. Search engines survey the words I use in blog posts, and advertising related to the concepts of those words pops up on Beaufinn now and then. Some months ago when I wrote about wild boars in Germany, an ad for boar hunting in America appeared on my site.

As for Facebook, we all fell for it, really, including me. We unnecessarily gave away a ton of personal information, and that site is now obviously all about watching and monitoring people and their activity, and trying to sell stuff to them. I no longer post photos to my Facebook profile, and comment minimally on my own activities, because I find it akin to reporting on myself to both the world and also to a hidden authority about which I get to know nothing.

Privacy has become a commodity, and I’m starting to invest more and more, or at least try.

As for that idea about your car ratting you out to the cops, that’s not entirely about privacy, because if you’re just +2 mph over the limit, you’re doing that in public. What’s wrong with that is the passivity of it — that my machine, not I, files a report that I wouldn’t deign to file. The person is in charge of the machine, or should be. My car shouldn’t be making phone calls that I didn’t dial or wouldn’t dial.

Is it all about safety and peace of mind? Will we feel wonderfully secure in a world where our cars are talking to the other cars and regulating their speed together while we, in our GPS-tracked, holographic clothes, can spend the drive to work already doing work using our cranially implanted PDAs? While overhead, the drones know exactly who’s where, what they had for breakfast, how much they weigh, their blood sugar and heart-rate, and if they’re pregnant or not?

At lunch, you take a walk, and the genetically modified trees can detect the skin cells you shed. They record your presence in an embedded chip.

Oh, yes — trees will be computerized in the future.

I just wonder: How soon?


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  1. collapse expand

    The government already can (and does) track any of us through our cel-phones. This isn’t some “what does the future hold?” prediction…it’s the wave of the present. Sprint received so many requests (8 million) that they created a special website and paid 110 employees just to ease the processing of warrantless searches for their customers’ location:
    http://paranoia.dubfire.net/2009/12/8-million-reasons-for-real-surveillance.html

    If you believe in the two-party system, the one that should be rejecting this is actually requesting more of it:
    http://rawstory.com/2010/02/obama-attorneys-argue-warrantless-cell-phone-tracking/

    • collapse expand

      JCalton — Thanks for the links. I need to check them out and scare myself more. As far as political parties go, any one of them loves surveillance power. I recall that Clinton signed into law a whole bunch of wire-tapping regs that civil-rights groups did not much like.

      Now please excuse me while I go bury my cell phone.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    Will we feel wonderfully secure in a world where our cars are talking to the other cars and regulating their speed …
    Back when I was a teenager my motto was “what they (parents) don’t know won’t hurt ME.” Even after all these years I can honestly say that I still subscribe to that motto, only now it’s connected to ‘Big Brother’ which is way too much like your description of our ‘futureworld.’

    • collapse expand

      Ann — What galls me is the involuntary surrender of information to which we must subscribe if we want to do things that we have to do to get by in America. At this point, trying to operate without a cell phone is quite a feat if you’re involved in any number of professions, but, as reader JCalton points out above, that device is reporting on you and used to track you. Eventually, I think, our cars will do the same. You won’t be able to buy a vehicle that is not wired with a device that tells things about your driving, your location, and your direction, whether you want that information known or not.

      It’s not as if we’re entirely a nation of cons skulking around, pulling off some kind of rip off, and deserve to be monitored. We’re a Republic of free individuals in a country where we have long enjoyed freedom of movement, until now. Ironically, we happily embrace the technology that is stripping away our right to move about without a governing oversight (either corporate or state).

      It would make the KGB proud.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Early in ‘The Patriot’ Mel Gibson’s character (with apologies to all considering what I’ve read about him lately) says: “Tell me Mr. Howard, what is worse? One tyrant 3000 miles away, or 3000 tyrants one mile away?” It appears we are still dealing with thousands of tyrants all around us.
        Is this another example of life imitating art?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    The company I worked for had the place wired. It is like working in a place with an open mike. Anything you said would be back to management in a heartbeat.
    Seems like a stupid thing to do to me so I took advantage of the open mike to tell them what I wanted them to believe. It worked. From then on they were putty in my hands.
    The weakness of a system is gutting it with more information than it can possibly handle. And that is what is happening right now. So the computer has to search for key words instead of any human being able to handle the influx of information coming in. So anyone wanting to confuse the system either enters all the keywords or substitutes words for what they really mean.
    Any computer system is an idiot/genius. For instance the information going to the cop. I see kids hacking the computer and lowering the speed reported by 5 to 10 miles an hour.
    The camera system is a scam. At 35 miles an hour, you need 3.5 seconds to stop. (based on highway patrol rule of thumb that you need one car length per second of stop time) You also need 2-3 seconds to react to a change of light if you are very fast. The contracts state that the yellow light cannot stay on more than 3.5 seconds at a municipal stop. Therefore if you are within 3.5 car lengths of a light, it is virtually impossible to not run a red light at 35 miles per hour. 35 is the speed limit on main highways within a city. 25 is the speed limit otherwise. This is today, not some future technocrat society. Average ticket is 75 dollars or more. I have not been caught running a red. But I know the rules. Someone within these game rules will always run the red. Smile, you are on candid camera. The scammers just got you.

    • collapse expand

      LordBasil — This is a reasonable reaction: turn an illegitimate system into your favor, as you did at that bugged workplace. Of course, it’s more work on top of the tasks one already has.

      As for the traffic light deal, maybe you make the yellow, maybe you don’t. Maybe a cop sitting nearby nabs you. The built-in traffic-light camera that sends a signal to your bank account to deduct the cost of your violation that you must then go to court to argue against to get your money back is what will be part of the future.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    Just going to say we are already halfway there. All cars with airbags are already connecting…

    http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2006/02/black_boxes_states.html

    the only thing missing at this point is the “ET Phone Home” scenario you outline… but wait, Onstar cand and does do that!

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    About Me

    I've worked as a ghostwriter, a magazine editor, and an acquisitions editor in publishing, and lived for quite a while in NYC. Now I live in the trees and am a freelance "content provider" for print and digital media and for broadcast programming. I also rep the work of angling artist Ernest Schwiebert. I published a short story collection, "The Midnight Fish," in 2001, and the satires, "The Vampire Survival Guide," (2008) and "The Vampire Seduction Handbook," co-written with Luc Richard Ballion" (2009). My novels are represented by Harold Ober Associates, NYC.

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    Spring ‘10: Going fishing, making stuff up, fooling my friends, trying to find an illustrator for a graphic-novel project. Other than those things, the usual: Working on a new long-form project while trying to sell the others.