Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Monbiot on a world without privacy

Monbiot writes for the Guardian. He's a reliably left-wing future-is-scary sort of guy. Mostly I think he's off-base or uninteresting, but I follow his blog postings because every month or two he is interesting and unique. This time he writes about implantable RFID chips and the gradual transformation of society:
George Monbiot: Children of the Machine:

... There will be no dramatic developments. We will not step out of our homes one morning to discover that the state, or our boss, or our insurance company, knows everything about us. But, if the muted response to the ID card is anything to go by, we will gradually submit, in the name of our own protection, to the demands of the machine. And it will not then require a tyrannical new government to deprive us of our freedom. Step by voluntary step, we will have given it up already.
I fought this back in the 1980s and early 1990s. I gave up; even before 9/11 it became clear that either people couldn't understand this topic or didn't really care. We live now in a world that would have shocked citizens of 1980s America, but the transition has mostly gone without remark.

Monbiot conflates loss of privacy with loss of freedom. David Brin (Surveillance society) has done a good job of showing that they're not necessarily identical. Privacy loss is necessary, but not sufficient, for a loss of freedom. Practically speaking, however, the falling cost of havoc and the a separate drive to protect economic interests means freedom will likely follow privacy.

Is there anything to do? Sure there is. There are better worlds. Will Americans take another path? No, we re-elected George Bush. Will Europeans? Seems not. Canadians? No. Maybe in New Zealand ...

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