Technology and the future of privacy

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

  • In Millenia past privacy was considered to be a normal part of life but now it is increasingly becoming a privilege and a scarcity, and, if it is not guarded, or looked after wisely, one day it won’t exist at all


 

I originally wrote this piece as a backdrop to my article on that covered the announcement that China are beginning to roll out a nationwide Orwellian state surveillance system, and, if I’m honest I was also rattled (again) by a recent report by Freedom House that found, unsurprisingly, that global internet freedom has declined for the sixth straight year in a row with more than two thirds of the worlds population now being subjected to censorship, or worse.

So now this prelude has its own article.

We are all getting accustomed to our online, digital lives, being recorded, monitored and analysed – by everyone from our local insurance agents to the governments national security agencies, but what many people might not realise is that new technologies are making it easier for government and organisations around the world to record, monitor and analyse our behaviour offline too.

 

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Pt. 17 of 18. Foreign expansion, leadership lessons from organised crime

 

As technology proliferates and improves it’s easy to miss some of the developments that are already here, or see what’s coming next. And even if you do then you trust, and perhaps hope, that your government won’t turn authoritarian and use it to enforce their own will or agenda on you and the rest of the populous.

Your privacy has already been eroded and it’s only going to get worse. As someone who has worked within the security sector myself, the old adage of “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” is over used and over rated.

Todays censorship and surveillance systems are the equivalent of having an inspector standing outside your lounge window watching your every move and there’s no way for you to close the curtains. Furthermore, as all these surveillance and reporting systems get joined together it’s inevitable that we will all head towards a world where nothing is private, where, one day “Privacy” itself might be sold as a service.

So let’s elaborate.

It’s old news that you’re monitored online so let’s throw that one to the curb as a given. And then let’s imagine that we live in a country where the government “has their own agenda” – translate that as you will, and let that colour how you see this article.

We already live in a world where governments and institutions are pulling semantic meaning, and attributing behavioural and societal characteristics to people based on the words and content they push to the web. We have persistent surveillance systems that can track your every move – and as their imaging systems get better they’ll be able to track you by being able to identify you from either your gait or your face. We already have another promising technology that uses just WiFi to gauge your emotion and we have another one that looks like it can pull secrets straight from your head by analysing your brainwaves.

Thought I’d finished?

We have technologies that can read your irises and fingerprints from across the other side of the room and that can read your lips wherever you are, we even have technologies that seem to be really good at telling if you’re a criminal using nothing more than a photo. But, and you could argue I’ve saved the best until last we have technologies that can pull the story of your life, complete with moving images right out of your head.

 

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Digitising the FTSE

 

Sure, this is where I hear some of you say that these technologies are in their infancy and that they’re not yet fit for purpose, but let me remind you that technology only gets better, cheaper and more ubiquitous over time.

I haven’t yet mentioned anything about governments or institutions who will one day begin classifying your access to education, or welfare, based on your genes. More of that to come in my next article and if you think that some of the technologies above were freaky we might not have seen anything yet…

The question then becomes – who, or, in the age of AI, what, is in control of the governing system, and that… that is a very interesting question. And, just in case, for those of you thinking that encryption is the be all and end all that will help you keep your private comms private, think again, and standing in a field with a tray on your head while you hurriedly unplug every digital thing you have won’t help either. There are satellites for that – with advanced hyper spectral sensors, and that’s where I’ll leave it – for now.

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