Saturday, November 04, 2006

Your Data Double in the Totalitarian Surveillance Society

What do you think your data-mined information says about you when compiled into a profile? You might be surprised. For example, if you were once 'into' gaming and hooked on "EverCrack" years ago, have since broken your habit and are now on to reading Tolstoy that you just purchased from a used book store that you bought with cash, your "data double" (i.e., the profile of "you" based on your education, employment history, criminal background, purchasing history, credit and financial history, associations, etc.) would not reflect this new-found mental maturity. Thus, your e-profile or data double would raise some red flags to spooks where there may (and in this case, isn't) a need.

Dr. Benjamin Goold, a lecturer in law and criminology at the University of Oxford stated at the Data Protection and Privacy Commissioner's conference in London yesterday:
"The pervasive use of surveillance undermines or destroys the inter-related trust relationships that are fundamental to the operation of the state," he said.

There might be many laudable ideas behind surveillance, like fighting crime, he said. "But there's an important tipping point where the number of people under surveillance is greater than those who are not."

"When the state moves from trying to govern to trying to control, that's one of the trademarks of the surveillance state," he added.

Providing further detail of how totalitarian regimes work, Goold described how the database state is starting to operate today.

Information stored in databases creates a data double, which is used as a proxy for a person's identity. But there is a dissonance, he said, between a person's idea of who they are, and the identity ascribed to them by their data double.

So Amazon might suggest to your data double that it buy a particular book. But you might notice that it was on a subject you where interested in 10 years ago. So what if it didn't realise you were more interested nowadays in building Robot Wars combatants than disarming house alarms?

But what happens when this data double controls the way you can interact with the state, and much else besides.

"There's a danger the state develops an ID that exists separate to the individual that trumps the individual's idea of themselves," said Goold.

This distinction was a characteristic of totalitarian states, he said and likewise, "The marshalling of trivial details to create a picture of me that I don't endorse."
Wait - the term 'totalitarian' is thrown around so much by paraniod conspiracy-theorists and 'patriots' that we may have forgotten what is means:
to·tal·i·tar·i·an

adj.
Of, relating to, being, or imposing a form of government in which the political authority exercises absolute and centralized control over all aspects of life, the individual is subordinated to the state, and opposing political and cultural expression is suppressed: "A totalitarian regime crushes all autonomous institutions in its drive to seize the human soul" Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

n.
A practitioner or supporter of such a government.

SOURCE: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

More Troubling Information On The Surveillance Society:
The democratic values of equality and freedom are threatened by the creeping advance of surveillance into all walks of life, according to A Report on the Surveillance Society, edited by two of the world's leading thinkers on the social consequences of surveillance, Kirstie Ball and David Murakami Wood.*

The report fends off any potential accusations of paranoia by first declaring that there is no "malign plot hatched by evil powers" to control the world. It then goes onto describe something that might merely be considered insidious.

"Power corrupts or at least skews the vision of those who wield it," it says, before going on to explain how the growing use of surveillance in all walks of life is putting unprecedented power into the hands of state and industry.

It warns how the information describing people's identities - likes and dislikes, status, movements, means and actions - that is being stored in so many public and private sector databases, is being merged to create a fixed record of their cultural capital, their value to the organisations that control the systems.

"This information is then sorted, sifted and categorized, and used as a basis for decisions which effect our life chances," it says.

That might be all very well with someone who the system deems desirably wealthy, healthy, well adjusted, intelligent, talented, ASBO-free -- the Blairite picture of normality. But the other sort of normal people, the human sort, are being sorted into less favourable categories by the system.

These might be crude immigration systems that give people with a pristine life history a fast track through customs, or consumer databases that give high earners preferential treatment in shops and hotels. Amazon, it says for example, charges different customers different prices.

"Call centres now rank order customer accounts according to their relative spend, and alter their service levels accordingly," it says.
Calling all Patriots (and French):
Are you ready to wake up yet?

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