I've alluded to this in the introduction to the site, and posted on Facebook about it before as well. Today I ran across an article in the Atlantic describing research into iris scanning technology that can identify people at a distance, and decided my first post here might as well be an expanded explanation of what I call the society of self enforced conformity (a bit of a mouthful, I know). This Orwellian construct has been made possible by the information technology boom, and we, the people are the ones building it.
There's a great deal of controversy over 'privacy rights' at the moment, given the ongoing Snowden revelations, among others. My fear is that we are having the wrong conversation. We do not have a right to privacy. Never have, never will. The Fourth Amendment states, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Notice the word 'privacy' does not appear anywhere in the amendment or the entirety of the Constitution, for that matter.
Privacy is a social issue, though it does grey into the legal area quite a bit. The Fourth Amendment isn't about privacy. It is a stern prohibition on government fishing expeditions into your life. It states clearly that the authorities, before they can go mucking about in your personal and business affairs, must go to a sitting member of the judiciary and convince him or her that they have a legally compelling reason to do so, explaining exactly what they suspect, exactly what persons and evidence they expect to find, and exactly where they expect to find them. They then must receive permission from the judge to go and get them (the warrant). The men who wrote our Constitution were thoroughly familiar with the British Crown's use of property and records seizures to intimidate critics into silence by destroying their livelihoods and reputations.
Our Federal and state governments have dug the Fourth's grave by simply moving most of the spying into the private sector. The Internet made targeted marketing research into a multi-billion dollar industry. It should come as no surprise that intelligence agencies found all that low hanging fruit just too tempting. They've begun the Fourth's funeral by blatantly ignoring the law. I recall telling friends not to relax in 2003, when Congress defunded John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness program. I predicted that the program would be taken into the black, and once it was too well developed and embedded to easily dismantle, its creators would trot it back out into the light with an arrogant swagger, and a one finger salute to the public. Isn't that just about what's happened? What they now know about you is only a threat to you. What they may have on nine Supreme Court justices and five hundred and thirty five members of Congress, not to mention state legislators and governors, is a serious threat to all of us. That could conceivably explain why our supposed representatives, and the courts, lately seem to be paying little more than lip service to either the law or their constituents' wishes. If you want a more in depth view of who's really behind this push for total surveillance, I suggest you check out Joseph P. Farrell's site.
Even so, I don't think government overreach is the biggest threat, and now I'll get to the meat of it; the biggest threat is us, and our changing attitude toward privacy. The behavior of governments can be controlled somewhat by the citizenry, as long as said citizens are willing to push back, and back up their resistance with steel. The larger threat is that the surveillance and behavioral prediction technologies used by governments and large corporations are now rapidly becoming available to the general public, in user friendly, easy to abuse formats. The same private sector information technology boom that has put the wildest fantasies of public sector authoritarians within their grasp, has also given the private citizens an unprecedented ability to spy on each other.
We are not losing the non-existent right to privacy. We are losing the ability to "be secure in [our] persons, houses, papers, and effects." In plain language, we are losing the ability to compartmentalize our lives, and even losing the understanding of why it is impossible to have a free society without it. You don't share the same things about yourself with your auto mechanic or grocer that you do with your doctor, pastor, or spouse, and I'm sure you understand at a visceral level why you don't, whether you can articulate it or not. Now, imagine a world where literally everything about you, your beliefs, opinions, likes and dislikes, can be known by anyone who cares to look, regardless of your desire to keep that information private. We are building that world right now.
Literally anything about you can be learned or extrapolated from your purchasing habits, location (cell phone metadata), web sites you visit, personal and business contacts (cell phones, e-mail, Facebook), etc.. All of this is being recorded by hundreds of businesses, not just the NSA. A good example is the teen girl who's pregnancy was revealed to her father by coupons Target sent to her for baby items. The store chain's data mining algorithms had picked up on her probable pregnancy from a change in her purchasing habits. Some may find this story funny, but much darker examples can be found among all the businesses and individuals who've been targeted for their private political activities. The danger lies not in the fact that companies, and increasingly, private individuals, are collecting and correlating all of this information, but in the fact that there is absolutely no way that anybody can guarantee that it will remain private. Do you want your rabidly vegan, PETA supporting boss knowing you spend your vacation time bow hunting? Does the ultra-conservative loan officer at your bank need to know about your support for marijuana legalization? Probably not, but they can easily find out now, and the probability that they will is increasing daily.
The result of this trend will be not just the chilling of speech, but of action and even thought. People will learn to self censor in every area of their lives, from what they dare say, to what they buy, who they talk to, places they visit, media they view or read, even the things they allow themselves to be interested in. Anyone not expressing and living the "correct" values and opinions will find themselves socially and economically isolated. Automated persecution, poverty and deprivation for the non-conformist, no jackbooted thugs needed. It will become the ultimate expression of pure democracy, mob rule. In the end, he who can influence the mind of the mob, will rule the world.
That's the society of self enforced conformity. It isn't a society I care to live in. Humanity needs to sit down together and have a long, reasoned discussion about what is appropriate for us to know and share about ourselves and each other, and put those limits into place, before that society begins to mature.
I am, and have always been, unafraid to voice my opinions. In fact I believe everyone needs to vent now and then, and we all have a God given right to do so. I despise willful ignorance and intellectual dishonesty, and take a perhaps perverse pleasure in puncturing the politically correct proclamations of those who have anointed themselves as our betters. I could be described as a contrarian and a bit of a curmudgeon, having now reached an age at which those labels no longer sound odd. Not everything I'll address here will be controversial. In fact, I would rather keep that sort of thing somewhat limited (and it should surprise no one that I probably won't succeed in doing so). We already have our fill of whining talking heads on the 'net. However, if you are easily offended or thin skinned, you might want to skip this blog. You have been warned.