Big Brother is watching you

Smart cards, satellites in the service of position detection, the "New York Times" in your home by one click - Informationtechnology gets more and more mundane, but we have to keep an eye on the effect of supervision,


Big Brother Is Watching You !

In the next few minutes I want to tell you just the essential aspects of global observation, how it happens, the advantages and the risks. And it's a phenomena of our century, which nobody can deny, that in future we won't be able to take one step without being watched.

Take the example of an usual supermarket bill. What we see is a list of all the things we bought, useful to check out how much money we spent and for what. But this information doesn't exist just on this paper. Every sell is saved in a computer and so the manager is able to notice what kind of article is sold most, which special-price-offer comes best and who of his shop assistants is the most productive. And that's at the current market situation not unimportant.

Now you may say, "Ok, I don't mind! They do not know my name, so it's anonymous." Yes, you're right, it is.

But what about this (Page 3)?

There are quite a lot of so called "Directmarketing - Companies", which are founded to create such customer profiles. You see the job, his turnover and a lot of other personal things, and please mind, also his name. Such databases are completely legal and it's a clever way how they collect this information. For example you are applying for "Jeopardy", then your address and name is added in the database and maybe that you like playing games. Then after a while you take part in a competition of a tennismatch. You know these games, where you can win holidays and something. Now they know that you're interested in tennis. And so on It's a quite simple idea, but it works. Or every time you order something by mail. In an indirect way you tell them your size, hobbies, favourite colour, etc. So a so called "lifetime value" is created.

Another nice example: A young family starts to buy babyclothes in pink. The computer system knows immediately that probably a female baby is born. So the family gets twice a year special offers, of course for the proper age. And it's clear that this technique doesn't make a stop at the digital era. We know that there is already a computer programme, which is used for recording mailings if there are certain keywords. At the moment they are just used against hackers, but it's also possible to collect user specific information for advertising.

The next thing I want to show you is used to help us. It's a system called "Falcon" and it's made to avoid illegal transaction with credit cards. Every time a credit card is used, and this happens quite a lot, "Falcon" checks if this transaction fits in the pattern of the real user. So if the system 'thinks' that this can't be the lawful user it asks the shop assistant to check the identity of the person who uses the card. And this really works, "Eurocard" was able to reduce the abuse to a minimum. This ingenious idea is originally invented by the military. As another way of controlling, the GPS ("Global Positioning System"). With the help of some satellites it's able to locate every appliance which is equipped with such a fistsized device. Needless to tell you what this means to the possibility of controlling.

Video-observation is also a possible way of supervision. Especially at airports, railroad stations, streets, tunnels, parking houses, banks and so on it's very useful to install cameras and so it's possible to keep an eye on the citizens. A Britain district started a trial run to find out, whether the number of violent acts would change. So they mounted 115 cameras in the whole city and about 4 persons watched the streets all over the day. This idea works, the city became a friendly place with hardly any crimes. The shady side was the effect of voyeurism. After a while a video was released called "Caught in the Act" and it showed lovers in elevators and other private things.

And last but not least: Smartcards

The easiest way for "Big brother" to watch us. The models with an integrated chip are able to save our life onboard. New bus- and railroad tickets are designed to summarise the distances you travelled and at the end of the month you get your bill. It's a nice method to make your life simpler, but it's logical that this information has to be saved. So there exists a database, which knows where you've been and this information could be abused. Finally I want to tell you the idea of the "A-Card". It's another kind of a Smart-card that stores all you medical data, your blood group, everything that might be interesting for a doctor. Useful, but as we already heard there are certain risks. If someone steals this card, he knows everything, every disease you ever suffered and other information you won't tell everybody.

Visionaries, as Bill Gates, want one card, or better one chip, which is the ID for every person. And if possible putted inside our body, so we can't lose it. This chip records every movement and all our physical conditions, so it's a autobiography of our life.

At the moment it's just a vision, but one thing is clear, with such a supervising instrument life won't be the same. Maybe it would improve our quality of living, but it takes of lot of research till this is realisable. Not a research in the technology of the chip, more in the safety of the personal data.

All the things I explained up to now are proven. So we are sure that this exist, but we do not know what the military or other research centres are developing. So if the police is knocking on your door tomorrow morning, maybe they know something that they shouldn't.

Now I reached the end of my talk but I hope the stuff I told made you think. I never feared the negative effects but now I'm more sceptical. Maybe you should think twice when you're using your credit card next time.