Thursday, 4 July 2019

Sci-Fi Future Is here And Now (Part 9): Surveillance Society Sneaks Into Our Lives

Consider a sci-fi dystopian scenario in which a society's citizens fall into the habit of self-monitoring their thoughts and actions due to the fact that they themselves are being constantly monitored. Far-fetched? 

Mobile Phone Tracking

In a move that would have once been the viewed as being little more than science fiction, the Victorian government has recently put forward a proposal to have people’s mobile phones tracked in order to improve transport.

The new proposal would involve the use of personal phone data to improve the state's public transport network. The data from phones, apps and GPS devices would be used by the state government to help it monitor and plan people's travel times, and track demand and punctuality of the public transport network.

We should be concerned about yet another foray by the government and other authorities into our personal privacy and freedom of movement. We should resist attempts to harvest sensitive personal information about our location, our movements and travel patterns.
The government’s ability to monitor the use and effectiveness of the transport system and our ready acquiescence could have dangerous and unforeseen consequences for all of us particularly when viewed alongside all the other many layers of surveillance that have crept into our daily lives. Consider the following seemingly innocuous instance...

Supermarket Checkout Cameras

The other week I went shopping at my local Coles supermarket. I had a few items I needed to purchase and decided to go through the self-service checkout. As I approached one of the machines, I noticed a tablet-sized screen attached to the top right-hand side of it. As I got closer, an image of a very unattractive-looking head loomed up at me on the screen. ‘My God!’ I thought, ‘that’s my head!’

Yes, I (and anyone else using using the machines) was being filmed. No-one asked my (or anyone else’s) permission to do so. The implication embedded within the use of such technology is that all customers are potentially untrustworthy and must be viewed with suspicion. So now companies like Coles may have our images along with purchasing and other personal data.

Self-service technology has been introduced in order to improve customer flow and efficiency. It has also been introduced to reduce costs, particularly labour costs in terms of the number of people employed on the check-out registers. Oh, but wait! It was discovered that the new technology resulted in pilfering whereby some customers were not scanning all of their purchases. Who would have guessed!

The solution? Add on more technology to catch those pesky grocery crooks. Now we not only have surveillance cameras placed high above the aisles, but we now have them checking up on us close up and personal.

One fellow did bring the matter up with the staff member stationed at the self-service section by asking if they were cameras that were attached to the machines. She replied that they were and he just happily continued on with scanning his goodies with mechanical efficiency under the watchful gaze of the camera guardians.

My own reaction to seeing the image of my ugly face on the screen was to flip my middle finger at it, mumble, “stuff this!” and do an about face and high-tale it to the manned (personed?) check-out. Once there, I had a delightful chit-chat with the young lady while she filled my reusable bag with my purchases.

Not long after my shopping adventure, I sent an email to Coles outlining my objections concerning their installation of the self-service checkout cameras. I don’t expect much to result from this but what is the alternative? Just comply and meekly submit on the basis that we already have so much surveillance in our society that one more layer wont matter much? Or perhaps the old rationalizing chestnut of not needing to worry about being monitored if you don’t have anything to hide.

But that’s the point! We all do have and need to have something of and about selves to hide. That’s the nature of personal privacy and it is something we must protect from and not trade away due to fear or for convenience to governments and corporations.

Individually and collectively we must resist the inroads being made on our privacy and freedoms by governments and corporations by telling them in no uncertain terms to “PISS OFF & MIND YOUR OWN FUCKING BUSINESS!!!”

©Chris Christopoulos 2019

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