06 June 2014

The Orange Tip wondered who was watching. Had the US satellite seen him? Was that a drone overhead?
PapillonWebGeorge Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948 and may have reversed the digits of the year to derive the title. He predicted a surveillance society and although 1984 was too soon I believe we are getting close to ‘Big Brother’.
Modern technology is the mechanism. The government is introducing legislation to allow the authorities to read all our emails and trawl all our phone calls. The police keep DNA samples for a limited period of time. When a crime is committed the ubiquitous CCTV often identifies the criminal. Number plate recognition traps the speeding motorist. When we use a debit or credit card we announce our location and shops are able to build a profile of our purchasing habits.
On the Internet we leave electronic trails all over the place. Google records what we search for and imposes targeted adverts upon us. Whenever we purchase we are asked to register and our contact details are stored. The details are sold and junk emails flood in. On the telephone cold calls interrupt daily living. People pour their lives into Facebook for potential employers to review and tweet themselves out of jobs. We and our friends leak our lives into cyberspace.
Is all this a bad thing? Some of it is irritating but some of it makes us safer.
Take DNA for example. If the government kept a national DNA database the police would be able to solve the majority of violent crimes very quickly. This could help to prevent  murders, rapes and terrorism. Babies could have their DNA taken at birth and now that the human genome is known it would be possible to identify people with genetic diseases and perhaps even identify people who are likely to commit crime. To take the most self-evident example, men are more likely to commit crime than women. There are men with two Y chromosomes instead of just one and they are more likely to be violent.
Biometric checks such as retina scans and face recognition at our borders are likely to detect people trying to enter the country illegally. Millimeter wave scanners can strip the clothes from us and detect concealed bombs. Artificial noses are being developed that will be able sniff out criminals and drugs although so far dogs are much better.
Microchips can be used for the unique identification of race horses and now dogs. How long before they are used for humans? Will babies get a chip placed beneath their skin soon after birth? This is not appealing but chip technology is being used to allow paralysed people to control robot arms. The chip is embedded in the skull and converts the tiny electrical signals in the motor cortex into electric currents interpreted by a computer to control the robot arm – a revolution in medical care but it makes us seem uncomfortably like robots ourselves. What next?-  surveillance butterflies?



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