I am not a big fan of conspiracy theories and doomsday predictions. I know it is fashionable to believe we are all going downhill into a police state, that all business is conspiring to get us, that there is a global conspiracy to stamp bar codes on all our foreheads and sell us to little green people on Mars. Or some such nonsense.
But as an optimist who believes that things will generally right themselves, I must admit I am a little concerned. Two things have happened at about the same time to bring about this angst on my part.
First, on my AOL account I have a screen name or handle that is made up and which would not give you a clue who I am. That's how it is supposed to work. Then I start getting e-mails from people trying to buy my house or talk to me about other personal stuff and start out with my name. Now how did they get my personal stuff? Someone either bought or stole it from AOL. And so now I know that all of the electronic data about me is somehow up for grabs to the highest bidder.
Then along comes this national story about how the FBI admits when they are searching for terrorists by wiretapping their phones they are picking up normal people's conversations.
These tens of thousands of taped wiretaps made possible by this Patriot Act include ”collections of materials from the wrong sources due to technical problems,“ according to this federal report.
In other words, your or my private conversation in which we did nothing wrong except to pick up the phone and dial it are now stored on tapes in Washington, D.C. for any prying bureaucrats to listen to.
So here is my concern. Have we so allowed the technology to run ahead of the ethics? Could we all be possibly victimized by this Big Brother's snooping eye?
I know I am starting to sound like the doomsday sayers I have all my life run from. But think about it for a second. All of my life's movements are recorded on my little plastic check card's usage. If I stop and buy $20 (yeah sure) worth of gasoline and a Snickers bar, that transaction is recorded somewhere. And just as I can look at the end of the month at my every comings and goings based on what I spent, so can someone else if they so chose to.
My phone is a private phone. But the FBI is admitting my conversation is not as private or protected as I thought. Cameras that are being installed at some intersections to stop red-light runners also could be recording where I am going, who is in my truck with me and what time I was where.
People who search for information on people for a living could probably tell us how much information they could gather on someone in 10 minutes. It might frighten us all. If I buy a couple of items at a local drugstore and use my bank card the teller asks my zip code and then the computer says in a matter of second, ”Exactly. That is his zip code.“ So the giant computer containing all my personal stuff is ready to cough it up to anyone.
Am I concerned because I am doing something wrong or going where I shouldn't be going? No. My life is pretty boring and if I stood in a crowd and read out my movements and purchases most would be yawning in a second. But the idea that this Big Brother society is watching, always watching, always listening, is a little off-putting.
Technology has no ethics, no motives, no ulterior motives. It just records and spits out information. But we are only as protected as the ethics of the people who can get their hands on that information.
Most will remember stories of years ago about department stores that use surveillance cameras in the dressing rooms and how some little pervert clerk is arrested taking the tapes and watching them for his jollies. The technology did nothing wrong. The human being with no ethics did.
So where are we headed in the future? We are headed further into a world that your every movement and speech is open for anyone with the technology and lack of ethics to gather up. And we all know that information is power. So some will have ultimate power and some of us will be powerless.
A good healthy dose of skepticism and distrust of the information gatherers is probably a good thing for us all.
Bob Paslay is editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .