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.