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Is A Total Surveillance Society Inevitable?

Recently, ZD Net Australia reported about the Legal Futures Conference at Stanford University in California. Several technologists and legal experts attended the conference. Many legal experts have again raised concerns that Web 2.0 has come at the expense of individual privacy. The article quoted an IBM technologist at the conference who said:

" 'A total surveillance is not only inevitable and irreversible, but also irresistible,' Jeff Jonas, distinguished engineer and chief scientist at IBM Entity Analytics, said during a panel on surveillance at the conference on Saturday. For example, imagine how convenient it would be to have RFID chips embedded in sunglasses so you could find them easily, Jonas said."

Is he serious? Inevitable? Irresistible? Just so I can find my sunglasses? Consider this:

"Jennifer Granick, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, acknowledged that she finds the location-based technology in her iPhone very convenient when she's trying to avoid traffic congestion but she doesn't want the government to be able to use that technology to track her down. The fact that all sorts of data about each of us is being gathered and is archived, searchable, and can be compiled to create profiles about each of us is what makes digital privacy intrusions so much scarier than pre-Internet life, she said."

Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University and legal affairs editor of The New Republic, warned of:

"... "privacy chernobyls," which he described as "new threats to privacy that have the potential to transform society in troubling ways". Examples include Facebook revealing more about its members than they care to have revealed and tracking their purchases without consent, as well as AOL inadvertently exposing search terms of 650,000 people in 2006."

Are attitudes in the USA unique?

"The perspective is different in other countries, Rosen said. Americans are, in general, concerned with preventing terrorism, while Europeans are concerned with protecting their individual privacy, he said. For example, the French will bare their breasts but not their salaries and mortgages, and the reverse is true in the US. "My fear is that the cultural differences will make thoughtful regulation difficult," Rosen said."

Probably the most important conclusion:

"Government regulation is necessary to ensure that consumers' privacy is adequately protected online, Granick and Rosen said. Orin Kerr, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said the Fourth Amendment can be applied to the online world in a way that balances individual rights with law enforcement  needs."

I find a total surveillance society easily resistible. Nor is it inevitable. We have a choice. What do you think?

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