The news is that the U.S. Senate had cut all funding for the Department of Defense’s research on its Terrorism Information Awareness program. That was a good thing to do, but I expect it was a futile gesture. Maybe it’s time to just surrender to the inevitable and start planning for a life of transparency, for the people if not for the government.
The signs are all around us. TIA, which used to be known by a name that far better described its purpose: Total Information Awareness, is only the most public of the signs. This program was envisioned as being able to gather all the information available on everyone in the world. Well, actually not everyone – much of the world’s population does not get anywhere close to the kind of electronic system that TIA would get its data from.
The asserted rationale of discovering terrorists is so transparently absurd that one is left with the inescapable conclusion that the real purpose is to create a detailed electronic history of everyone they can.
Tying together every sort of electronic tidbit you leave behind when you do anything these days with the about-to-be-omnipresent radio frequency identification (RFID) that will be part of everything you buy, wear or use will let the government know on a minute-by-minute basis what you’re up to and who you are up to it with. Toss in the new airport scanner that shows you in your birthday suit, and the Mach-3 cam (seehttp://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,3605,999866,00.html) and its cousins, and the government will know much more about you than you do. I, for one, tend to forget where I was at a particular time of day a week or a month back. It would be wonderful to have this memory aid, but I suppose they will not let me see my own record so I’ll have to make due with my mess of neurons.
I suppose the next step will be to add miniature microphones to the RFIDs so the government could listen in on your plotting to violate the “Keep off the grass” signs.
I admit that this would be a boon to a government. Society would be much safer if the government simply could push a button to find out who was last to be near that wad of discarded gum.
But the benefits do not stop at the government. Private industry, which is collecting most of the information that is planned to go into TIA, would be able to offer all sorts of new helpful services. For example, the logical extension of the Mach-3 cam is to check to see if you also need Grecian Formula hair dye – a box could leap into your shopping basket if you do.
If you have the same feeling of control that a rat in a fully transparent maze does, welcome to the club.
Disclaimer: Some Harvard students may feel like they are in a maze, but it’s far from transparent. Anyway the above bad dream is my own (I hope).
Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University’s University Information Systems. He can be reached at email@example.com
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