Who is watching Big Brother?
November 29, 2004 8:30 PM   Subscribe

Who is watching Big Brother? Last week, the Australian Privacy Foundation held its annual Big Brother Awards, with biometric passports winning the prestigious "Orwell" for the most invasive technology (other countries' Big Brother Awards here). Not long before, Privacy International and the Electronic Privacy Information Center released their 7th Annual Survey on the state of privacy in sixty countries, claiming that threats to personal privacy have reached a level that is dangerous to fundamental human rights. Are we edging closer to Room 101?
posted by UbuRoivas (6 comments total)
I read "Who is watching Big Brother?" and thought... geez, are Reality Shows like Big Brother really the best of the web?

I think that the threat of Big Brother is much greater in urban areas, and is just another reason why the Red/Blue divide in the US regarding the Patriot Act, and other govt. intrusions into our privacy is split between the rural and urban areas.

Unfortunately, capitilism is going to be the driving force for Big Brother technology, and companies will continue to push governments to purchase and expand their exploitative Big Brother technologies. Lobbying against commercialism with the idea of personal privacy is a tough battle.
posted by stovenator at 12:40 AM on November 30, 2004

Stovenator-- why more in urban areas? Databases can be built out of any info, and if the population is sparser, it's easier for any "unusual" activity to stand out.

And, if I may dabble in stereotypes, I assert that Red America is home to more global-government, RFIDs-are-the-Mark-of-the-Beast, prepare-for-Red-Dawn conspiracy nutjobs.
posted by allan at 6:24 AM on November 30, 2004

I'm guessing he was more talking about stuff like cameras with automated facial recognition, etc. In a rural area, stuff is more spread out and also your camera will see less people. So if it costs 100k and you're in an urban area you might see 1000 people an hour, or just 100 in a population sparse area which would probably make it cost-ineffective. I guess rural towns are less likely to have funding for that sort of stuff, too.
posted by Vulpyne at 7:00 AM on November 30, 2004

"1984" looks sort of "1984"-ish in retrospect. It is now 2004, and Big Brother has been around for 20 years now. My point is that it doesn't end. There is no end to greater and greater dehumanization. There is no sense of "Enough. We no longer need to create new and better ways to crush the human spirit. We no longer need new and better weapons to take life and cause injury."

What we have to look forward to, perhaps, in 2014: mandatory DNA samples from everyone; identity chip implants for our convenience; human-animal hybrids with no civil rights; forced brain chemistry modification for unruly children, prisoners, and addicts; limits on our lives based on our "faulty" genetics, from insurance and employment, to permission to have children.

What awaits in 2024?
posted by kablam at 10:11 AM on November 30, 2004

Broadening the discussion to across the pond. The UK government has published the Identity Cards Bill. I nominate David Blunkett.

"The scheme could become compulsory sooner than previously thought as the Bill makes no reference to previous ministerial assertions that 80 per cent of adults would have to register for a voluntary scheme before it was made mandatory. "

Analysis here.

What on earth is the argument in favour of giving allowing the government to create more centralised records on all civilians?

The Information Commissioner (aka Privacy Commissioner) put it snappily, “I also have concerns in relation to the wide range of bodies who can view the record of what services individuals have used. This will enable the Government and others to build up a comprehensive picture of how we live our lives.
posted by Ugandan Discussions at 12:59 PM on November 30, 2004


(maybe if the report had been presented as a humorous flash animation, it might have attracted more interest)

Here is a nice little article succinctly describing many of the issues covered, mainly in a US, UK & Australian context. Some snippets:

"Almost every country that changed its laws after September 2001 increased the ability of law enforcement and national security agencies to intercept communications, transformed the powers of search and seizure, and widened the types of data that can be accessed," it says.

"The novelty in these initiatives lies in the reduced authorisation requirements and oversight ... There is also a general increase in the breadth of application of these powers by incorporating new technologies and communications infrastructures."


Worldwide, data is increasingly being shared both within across government agencies, and with the private sectors.

In the longer term, there are proposals to increase profiling of citizens and non-citizens, it says. "These proposals are typically complemented by national ID schemes, enhanced by biometrics."


The report criticises the US government for leading a worldwide effort in the past 15 years to limit individual privacy and enhance the capabilities of police and intelligence services to eavesdrop on personal conversations.

"Law enforcement agencies have traditionally worked closely with telecommunications companies to make phone systems 'wire-tap friendly'," it says. "This process was generally hidden from public view."

Now laws in many countries make it mandatory for suppliers of digital switches, cellular and satellite phones and all new communication technologies to build in surveillance capabilities. A related development has been the use of "black boxes" on ISP networks to monitor user traffic, and requirements for ISPs to keep activity logs.

[...] and:

According to the report, Britain holds the record for video surveillance, with one CCTV (closed circuit television) camera for every 14 people – a 300 per cent increase over the past three years. Most city centres in Britain are watched by a linked system of cameras with full pan, tilt, zoom and night vision capability, the report says.

Surveillance of public spaces has also grown markedly in the US and Australia.

posted by UbuRoivas at 2:25 PM on November 30, 2004

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