On Privacy


You are being watched. Every hour of every day. You are being studied. Commerce has a system. They see everything. They see your weaknesses and they exploit them.

Yes, it does sound a bit like the opening line of a current sci-fi series. For better or worse though, its actually true.

The supermarket where we shop has records of every item that we buy from them, how often we buy it, when its bought and what it cost. Nowadays, they send us an email to alert us, when the products that we use come on special! They provide a fuel discount on their shopping docket and they also get data on where and when that is used. So they know what fuel I buy and from where and when. And now I see that there’s a mob advertising on TV, asking for peoples’ opinions on all manner of things …. and even being willing to pay for it. Every time you use a debit or credit card, someone, somewhere collects the details …. what you spend, on what you spend, where and when.

Every time you borrow money or pay it back, someone, somewhere is collecting the details. Every time you pay a utility bill or buy flowers for your spouse, someone, somewhere is watching.

And then there’s the internet and computers. Every time you use the internet, there’s a whole raft of technologies to track and record your activities … what websites you visit, what pages you view, what your interests are and who you communicate with.

Of course, it isn’t only commerce that is studying and watching. Governments too are far more knowledgeable about you than you might care to know, Every time you pay some government fee, fine or charge, someone is recording your activities. If you incur a fine or are prosecuted, if you are late paying your debts or you become bankrupt, if you apply for or claim any kind of government benefit …. its all being carefully recorded.

It isn’t all that long ago that the Australian Government dared to suggest that Australians should all have an identity card called ‘The Australia Card’. The public outrage was amazing. Much talk of ‘Big Brother’ and the erosion of individual privacy. So the idea was quashed … and suddenly we all had a tax file number and a Medicare Card ……. and no-one even whimpered. It was a masterful exercise in marketing and a fascinating study in the ways a population can be manipulated.

Now we are moving towards a national recording system of individual health records. Soon, any doctor anywhere will be able to tap in to the system and access your entire medical history. Of course, with every new incursion into your civil liberties and with every invasion of your privacy, there’s a huge effort at reassurance ….. privacy policies ad-nauseum ……. to dupe you into imagining that there is still some vestige of respect for individual privacy.

Everyone has their own agenda. Governments need information to control people. Commerce needs it to extract your wealth. And the number of quasi government agencies who have a legitimate need to access and hold your private information is probably growing every day. Information is power. Its big business …. and it makes us vulnerable. And in the good old U S of A, land of the free, I understand that their government is operating massive ‘listening organisations’ who’s job it is to eavesdrop on their citizens’ computer and telephone communications … all in the name of combating terrorism.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of people’s private information being accessed in all sorts of illegitimate ways …. from computer hacking and illegal sale of data by rogue employees, right down to sensitive private documents turning up in rubbish skips. And with every technological advance in data collection methods, our lives become more and more an open book to the collectors of this information.

You don’t need to worry about any of this, of course. Just ask ANY of the myriad organisations and agencies that are collecting, compiling and collating the endless details of your hitherto private existence. Your info is safe with them and its only ever used for this and that and oh yes … that too!

So what do I think about all this data collecting and the loss of personal privacy that it represents? There are perfectly good reasons behind most data collection efforts. Like my local supermarket being able to send me a heads-up when my favourite cereal is on special … or the doctor in the city where I’m holidaying, being able to call up important health information, so’s I’m not given inappropriate treatment or medication. But I see a sinister side.

I can imagine a day, not very far off where EVERYONE will be controlled by some centralised administration that has access to ALL of your personal information in one convenient location. And a day when people are ‘extracted’ from society because they have a series of characteristics revealed by a computer analysis of their data which, taken together’ have raised a red flag in some unseen system that has highlighted them as undesirable elements in society. A day when you won’t have to commit a crime …. you will only have to have achieved the profile that makes it likely that you might! Its already happening in the movies.

I can envisage one of those empty, blank interview rooms. Mr Smith is sitting opposite me with a very thick folder ….. my life! He knows EVERYTHING about me … my parents and all about them. My education, my health, the fact that I caught a social disease back in ’02 and that I had two affairs that my partner hasn’t yet discovered. He even knows about that petty shoplifting charge when I was just a kid. The fact that I’ve started missing a few payment deadlines on my loans and that I’ve been involved with a group of social reform campaigners that the system has flagged as undesirable. He knows about those porn sites that I like to visit occasionally and he has copies of the more salient and damning articles that I posted on my blog. He knows I had that conviction for doing dope when I was 19 and also about the problems with alcohol abuse that I’ve almost beaten now. In short, Mr Jones knows enough about me that he can paint whatever picture he likes of me, leak it to whoever he likes and pour my current life right down the toilet. Heck, if he doesn’t have quite what he needs, he can probably just make it up. He is, after all, the system and the system KNOWS everything.

Its a scary prospect and it isn’t hard to see how an entire society will be easily controlled in the future. People will be made or broken, according to their compliance with the system and an interview with Mr Smith will become the universal ‘worst nightmare’. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’ll be any ‘Mr Reece’-type hero, bursting through the door to save you. You will be on your own. The only part of your existence that will be private, will be the hell that you find yourself in.

Exciting times ahead!


Andrew Caddle 20130922



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