Worried that the government is collecting information on you? When did you first start having these strange thoughts? Are you on medication? Perhaps you need to be. You have either been in a coma, or you don’t get out much. Yes, Virginia, the government is spying on you, and they have been for decades. Wanna know another secret? Everyone is spying on you.
Is the government my enemy?
Did you attend anti-war demonstrations in the sixties? The FBI probably has a file on you. Have you voted? The parties keep statistics on who in your precinct did, and how the voters in your precinct voted. If you declared a party, that party has you on the books. Your income, health, personal preferences, likes and dislikes, all collected, all ready to be analyzed.
Is technology my enemy?
Ever wonder how Google ads are relevant to what you have been searching for? Try it. Search for snow-plows, and marvel at how suddenly ads related to snow-plows magically appear on your search page. Coincidence? Of course not. Google knows what you have been looking for, and they that information to satisfy your needs.
Everyone is collecting little tiny bits of information about you all the time. They collect this information in huge data warehouses and they are learning to mine this data for patterns. They are applying mathematics to your life, and the lives of your fellow citizens. They are looking at standard deviations, and scatter plots, and pivot cubes. They are finding out things about you that even you don’t know. And that is not always a bad thing.
They Read My Facebook?
Yes, you idiot, if they want to read that drivel. Your digital life is an open book. Everything comment you make, every like or dislike, every picture you post, all the contacts and all the friends and followers, the books you buy on-line (the ones you check out at the public library), your email, your calendar, everything you have ever done with a keyboard, a phone, and an iPad, it is all somewhere, stored and backed up, in a format that can be analyzed.
Is big data the culprit?
Fifty years ago, the collection of data about you amounted to an entry in a ledger book. Thousands of ledger books, across the nation, with entries about taxes, and electricity, and doctor visits, and the same information you worry about right now. The difference is that no one could really search the data. It was too cumbersome. The digital age turned all of this little bits of information into spreadsheets and databases that could be parsed and analyzed, or in todays language, mined. It is finally true. He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. Someone knows your bra size, and how often you buy them. But they are not looking at your boobs. They are looking at their inventory.
Your bank knows where you shop, and when. They grocery stores know what you buy. Your car and your cell phone have location devices, or soon will. Your utility company knows how much electricity you use. Your water company knows how many times you flush, and how often you water your lawn. The post office knows how many packages they deliver to your home. UPS tracks everything you send and receive. Your insurance company knows all manner of things about you. You are a known quantity.
Can my information be used against me?
Perhaps. The sheer volume of information makes it very hard. In truth, you are not that important by yourself. In the aggregate, with all your other consumers, you become important. Is someone reading your mail? It’s possible, but not likely. There is too much mail to read.
Where data mining really excels is in discovering patterns that are overlooked, in preparing for future needs. Business determines demand and supply, where to ship product, when to quit manufacturing. Healthcare can be directed to specific areas where outbreaks occur. Power consumption can be analyzed for better grids and more reliable service. Water use can be anticipated. The supply chain for a lot of things that
Can you hide?
What if I live in a spider hole? Only speak to people personally, and never in public? Use only cash, and only in random locations? Grow my own food? Sure, it is possible to ‘go off the grid.’ You can see the finest examples of this on ‘Doomsday Preppers.’ Some of the Alaska subsistence reality shows are also good. You wanna live like that?
But the Constitution says…
The constitution was written for a different time. The digital world is inherently in conflict with your right to privacy. You are not going to outlaw email, and it was never designed to be secure. Your cell phone is no different.
Government is not your enemy. Technology is not your enemy. They are tools that could be used for good or bad purposes. We are realizing efficiencies that were never thought possible. We understand healthcare, and manufacturing, and distribution, in ways that have made us more efficient and resilient.
The so-called metadata that can be used to determine who you called, and when, is built into the system. Sure, you can make it illegal for the government to suck all that data up, and analyze it, but you are not making yourself any better off. Every part of your life is being collected in some file, somewhere. Get over it. No one is coming to break your door down in the middle of the night, and drag you off to some camp to be water-boarded.
The drones are coming
Drones will soon be overhead. You can bitch all you want. They will still be there. And, eventually, you will be glad they are overhead. They will catch drunk drivers, and report car accidents. They will take pictures in high-crime areas. They will report traffic jams, and call ambulances. It’s a new world, unlike any other. There is no going back.