Technology has the unfortunate quality of tempting people to use it, no matter how deleterious the effects. The growing ability to keep everyone under some sort of surveillance is a good example. Just today, I ran across a couple of stories that really creep me out in terms of what kind of society we are building.
The first story is a classic case of how good motives don’t necessarily excuse ill effects. A school in California tags its children with RFID badges and scans them wherever they are in the school. Apparently this gives them a good way of keeping out trespassers, keeping an eye on the kids, and taking accurate attendance. (Hmm, that doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult. I’m thinking it’s a matter of convenience in collecting data, kind of like the idea of checking out an entire cartload of groceries at once by running it under a scanner.)
But does it send a good message to the kids? Should they be growing up with the idea of casually accepting tagging as a means of surveillance? I know, it won’t be long before face-recognition technology just keeps track of them without even the need for an RFID tag.
The second story is a good example of another way surveillance enters your life: Silently, without permission, and for the most prosaic of reasons, money. ChoicePoint Inc. is a private firm that busily collects data about you from everywhere, starting off with credit records — they’re a spinoff of Equifax — and moving on through many things you wouldn’t imagine were kept, and then provides screening services and “actionable intelligence” to the government and various Homeland Security functions.
In the world of the Internet and databases, there’s a lot of information out there that folks don’t know is being kept on them, and ChoicePoint and other companies, such as LexisNexis, are looking to get in on the ground floor of a growth industry. Problem is, we don’t have a lot of restrictions or oversight on how that data is used. If we’re not comfortable with a governmental entity having easy access to our credit reports, dental records, genetic data, insurance information, driving record, email history, school records, criminal records, shopping receipts, video rentals, library books, etc., a private entity has even less oversight.
Update: Looks like the company providing the student RFID tags and tracking technology decided they didn’t agree with the idea that any publicity is good publicity. They’ve terminated their contract with the school.
Update, again: ChoicePoint illustrates a “small” problem with collecting your information and selling it to anyone who asks.