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Big Bro Wants to Sell You Something

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Scott Berinato writes in CIO:

    In 1984, the state methodically stripped the population of privacy and individual identity. This Orwell got wrong. In 2003, it’s largely corporations doing it. (Give the state time, though. The Total Information Awareness effort within the Department of Homeland Security, and aspects of the USA Patriot Act, such as the one that threatens to cut funding if schools don’t turn over personal information about students for military recruiting purposes, has renewed with terrific vigor the use of the term Orwellian). Big Brother turned out not to be a totalitarian regime hell-bent on absolute power, but rather a matrix of capitalist regimes addicted to money. Still, the effect is largely the same – far less individual privacy.

    ….we are not horrified by the many ways in which his dark prophecy has come true. What used to be sinister and abhorrent now appears in a constant stream of sunny, putative (newspeak follows) “value propositions.” Yes, we’re taking away privacy, the argument goes, but you get something good in return. Constant surveillance will help us root out terrorists; personal data for warranties allows a bike company to better understand our needs; the grocery store can give us better coupons!

    One can always find a few good applications for which degrading privacy seems acceptable – like putting GPS in cell phones so 911 services know where we are in an emergency. But when have corporate regimes ever disciplined themselves to keep the baby and throw out the bathwater? Once the GPS locator is soldered into the phone, localized spam (“Eat at Joe’s, two doors down from where you are now!”) is destined to follow.

    ….If anything, the slow erosion of privacy, the way it has been beaten back by the waves, almost imperceptibly, over generations, is the reason we haven’t been vigilant about protecting privacy. But one day – soon, it seems – we’ll look up and realize the beach is nearly gone.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    One important difference between 1984 and today is that so far, many of the anti-privacy elements of our society are voluntary. You certainly don’t have to get a little keychain fob for the grocery store, you’ll just pay a little more or drive a little farther. You don’t have to submit warranty cards, you just take you chances if the bicycle wheels fall off.

    The cameras? Well, I can’t answer that one. It’s true, those things do invade privacy. I don’t like them, and I can’t even explain lucidly why that is. The other one that really bugs me is how every company in the world seems to need my social security number before they’ll trust me. Again, I can always choose not to, oh, buy a house or a car, sign up for satellite tv, or join a gym, but that’s a funny definition of voluntary, I’ll grant.

    Still, the very existence of a book like the one you referenced, written by the so-called Boston T. Party, demonstrates that privacy is possible, if difficult. For all of the talk about megalithic corporation as evil invaders and corruptors of all that is Good(tm), it is still only the government that can make something compulsory (like those social security numbers I mentioned, or cameras on public streets).

    Orwell had it right overall, he just missed how smoothly such a society could develop. That’s why his time-frame was off – he thought it would have to come pretty much all at once by force, but we’re more stupid than he realized, we’re bringing it on ourselves a piece at a time!

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