Big Brother Is Watching You

Two recent news items bid fair to disturb the peace of my weekend with their troubling implications. Forget the looming collision of Obamacare with Medicare; never mind the unintended consequences of legislating what toilets and lightbulbs we all must use, to say nothing of using windmills for energy; and even put aside for a moment the idiotic bans on selling or consuming such delicacies as foie gras. No, those are minor signposts along the road down which we are headed.

Remember the two-way telescreen in Winston Smith's room, so that Big Brother could keep an eye on his doings at all times? George Orwell painted the future better than he knew.

The first item is the disclosure that mobile phones are being used to track an individual's movements. The manufacturers claim they need the data in order to update continually their GPS-based maps which they provide to us as an added feature. Yes, but -- why is the data being permanently stored in a cache? And what's to stop them from mining it?

For an example of where this technology is taking us, consider the second and even more disturbing item in the news: every new car manufactured from this month forward must have, by government fiat, a "black box" installed -- that cannot be removed "under penalty of law". (Remember the old mattress tags? They were a joke, but this is for real.) The boxes will make a permanent record of how -- and where -- you have driven the car.

So if you weren't caught while doing 45 in that 35-mile-an-hour zone, now you can be issued a ticket months later, based on the data taken from the black box. Or the federal government can use the box to tax you for each mile driven in general, while local governments can do the same for particular roads.

What is even worse is that insurance companies could be given the data in order to rate your driving habits in determining how much of a premium to charge you. (Mind you -- I am all for having insurance premiums match the insured's driving habits. But what I fear is the cookie-cutter algorithms that companies will devise to interpret the data. Look at what they have done with the algorithms used to compute your credit score.)

The Nanny State is all but upon us. How remarkable that the developments toward that end should parallel in time the impending arrival of a similar state in the Episcopal Church!

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