Privacy: Technology’s Collateral Damage

Today a friend sent me the following link, http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_Things, asking if I thought a new more integrated internet is a good or bad thing for society.  It is a complicated question.  Technology has made our lives much easier and increased the quality of life for most.  But it has also exposed us to crimes against us that could not have existed without the technology.  For instance there are annoyance crimes like identity theft and even theft of money via online bank accounts.  But perhaps more damning is the theft of our privacy.  If we take a step back and try to look at technology over the course of long periods we see that as technology develops our sense of privacy has diminished.

This is obvious and a result of us using the technology to such an extent.  The novelty of voyeurism and exhibitionism has been a huge draw to the masses.  However, there is a danger to all of this.  As we become more acclimated to a world in which our existence is being voluntarily exposed to all who care to see, we begin to lose control.  And I don’t just mean on an individual level.  I mean as a society we start to create cultural norms from which laws will be created.  Specifically, as more and more folks offer to open their lives via new technology the idea of privacy rights dissipates even for those who are against the idea of a fully transparent life.  Eventually society will get to a point that those who do not want to give up their right to privacy will be deemed to be hiding something and so they will be frowned upon.

Then some catalyst event, like a terrorist who does not participate in social networks will be detained, and the powers that be will create an erroneous cause and effect.  That is, people who protect their privacy by avoiding putting their lives out for all to see must be terrorists.  From there, laws will be passed that those who do not want to give up their privacy are providing law enforcement with probable cause of arrest.  This is in line with cities like Chicago that have implemented video cameras that are designed to detect pre-crime behaviour.  That’s right, these already exist.  The cameras inform police, who are monitoring the cameras, which people look as if they might be getting ready to commit a crime.  The only reason to have such a device would be to eventually attempt to prevent crimes from happening.  That would require detaining people the cameras indicate are about to commit a crime.

So you can see the slippery slope dangers of technology.  For those of you scoffing at the notion of such a conspiracy theory, have a look at the NSA surveillance records.  James Clapper sat in front of a congressional hearing and lied to congress and to the American people about how they were using the technology.  The lies were only discovered when American hero Edward Snowden gave up his freedom to expose the truth in an effort to defend the constitutional rights of you and your family.  Still very few Americans know that the NSA via an agreement with their UK counterparts hacked into millions of American homes via webcams.  Yes, that happened.  They recorded millions of Americans in the privacy of their homes doing all the various things free people do in the privacy of their homes.  I’m sure you can use your imagination to ascertain the extent of the content now stored on some Federal database.

As such, I urge you not to be so quick to brush off my prediction of the societal impact of these increasingly intrusive technologies.  Technology will always be used to its fullest capacity by those who can use it to enrich themselves by money and or power.  So you ask… is a more integrated internet a good or bad thing for society?  And my answer is that given our propensity to give away our rights and freedoms, I believe the loss of freedom and privacy will far outweigh the novelty of having our furnace turn on automatically when we are 10 minutes from home, as cool as that would be.  Some day your house may determine that you are acting strangely and lock you in until the police, which it has notified, get there to arrest you.