They’re watching

My next novel, The Shadow Tracer, is about a woman who tracks down people who have disappeared, and helps bring them to justice. But her life explodes and she ends up going on the run herself — with a five-year-old. The book asks the question: in today’s world, is it ever possible to vanish for good by going off the grid?

In researching the novel I read a lot about privacy in a hyper-technological 21st century society. Can you disappear? Yes, but you have to be clever, diligent, and lucky. As these articles attest.

From security expert Bruce Schneier: Our Internet Surveillance State.

Increasingly, what we do on the Internet is being combined with other data about us… Everything we do now involves computers, and computers produce data as a natural by-product. Everything is now being saved and correlated, and many big-data companies make money by building up intimate profiles of our lives from a variety of sources.

Facebook, for example, correlates your online behavior with your purchasing habits offline. And there’s more. There’s location data from your cell phone, there’s a record of your movements from closed-circuit TVs.

This is ubiquitous surveillance: All of us being watched, all the time, and that data being stored forever. This is what a surveillance state looks like, and it’s efficient beyond the wildest dreams of George Orwell.

He concludes: “[w]elcome to a world where all of this, and everything else that you do or is done on a computer, is saved, correlated, studied, passed around from company to company without your knowledge or consent; and where the government accesses it at will without a warrant. Welcome to an Internet without privacy, and we’ve ended up here with hardly a fight.”

Second, Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, writes in the Stanford Law Review:

No matter how private, dangerous, hurtful, sensitive, or secret a piece of information may be, any fool with a computer and an internet connection—which means just about everybody—can post it online, never again to be private or secret. They say that removing something from the internet is about as easy as removing urine from a swimming pool, and that’s pretty much the story. As soon as somebody posts an item, someone else picks it up and e-mails it to his friends, and friends of friends, and then bots and crawlers pick it up and the Wayback Machine makes sure the genie is never, ever to be stuffed back into the bottle.

He concludes: “If we the people don’t consider our own privacy terribly valuable, we cannot count on government—with its many legitimate worries about law-breaking and security—to guard it for us.”

Both essays are well worth reading in their entirety.

Am I worried about my privacy? Nah. I’m going to ignore all this and worry about the possibility that the Secret Service’s presidential protection detail has been infiltrated by shapeshifting alien reptile guards.

5 responses to “They’re watching

  1. And yet, somehow, the govt. can’t find my son’s W-2 form to send to us. It’s all scary stuff, ’til you realize the incredible inefficiency of government workers and departments.

    • Yeah, both articles emphasize that it’s private enterprise that’s so efficiently eroding privacy, helped by our blithe indifference.

      The government isn’t the evil genius it’s cracked up to be. Fortunately for thriller writers, nobody believes that. (See above re: shapeshifting alien reptile Secret Service agents.)

  2. The thing that irks me the most are these credit rating companies. I don’t understand how they are allowed to collect information and deny it to anyone who wants to know without paying for it. This is simply blackmail. I would never authorize anyone to collate my data yet the government protects these thugs. And just try to correct them about their misinformation. Fortunately I am in a position where their incompetence doesn’t matter to me. I only buy things I can afford. I would really like to put these people out of business.

  3. I’d like to comment, but they might find me….

  4. I love this topic of privacy, the ways we willingly give it away (and in the case of my sexting high school students, often stupidly), and the nigh-impossibility of disappearing. Once I went camping alone in the Yosemite high country and left my phone and iPod at home to get some solitude in nature (though the husband felt better when I called from a pay phone!). I despise Facebook for pitching their ads to “55 year-old female in Cupertino” who needs a pair of Uggs. My shoe size — for now — remains private!

    Can’t wait to read The Shadow Tracer, Meg!

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