He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Big Bro

Privacy is a hot topic, unless you’ve been sequestered from worldly concerns since Edward Snowden made his global debut as a leaker of classified documents. Our meta data is hanging out there in the breeze for all to see like underwear on a backyard clothes line. There are many paths that lead to an individual’s privacy: Social media, public records, credit bureaus, and digital foot prints. The first three paths are self explanatory, but what’s a digital foot print? Cell phones, laptops, cordless phones, GPS devices, automobile navigation systems, and wireless home networking gear leave a digital footprint behind, so to speak. Even though you turned off your cell phone, it still can be tracked. Some people remove the battery so they can escape the digital reach of Big Brother.

Analogous to a commercial passenger plane’s black box, there’s valuable data residing in nonvolatile memory of a car’s navigation system. Depending on the provisions of your automobile insurance policy, your BMW’s black box might be accessed should you file an accident claim. You were driving home at 2:15 in the morning and swerved into a ditch. The next day you notify your insurance company that you crashed your car into a ditch and there was no property damage. A claim is filed, your BMW is in the shop, and you’ve got a nice loaner. A claims adjuster shows up at the repair facility and requests access to the navigation system. That’s bad news, and it’s soon on its way to you. The data reports that you arrived at Uptown Tavern at 10:09 p.m., left at 2:00 a.m., and drove 50 MPH through a school zone before diving into a ditch at 2:17 a.m. Were you drunk? Who knows? The police were not involved since it was just you in a ditch and a tow truck driver that wanted to crawl back into bed. Your insurance company honors the claim, however an internal review recommends your policy be terminated. They know you were at a bar, possibly drinking alcohol, and you drove 50 MPH through a school zone at the time of the crash. You’re a liability according to data stored in the navigation system.

Let’s not debate the matter here, for you know you’re being watched in some capacity by those who want to intentionally invade your privacy, be they an insurance company or Big Brother, that government collective that wants to know what you think; what you say and to whom; what you do and with whom; and where you’re going and where you’ve been. Big Brother wants to know how you’re connected to the rest of the world by the number of degrees of separation between you and a hostile entity. From their point of view, every citizen is a potential threat under the auspiciously convenience of national security. Edward Snowden and others before him have disclosed documentation revealing some of the best kept secrets in the world. Orwellian scenarios are not new, after all spy craft is a seasoned discipline, and all governments want to know what their constituents are up to. Big Brother, that Goliath of data miners, has an agenda: You.

The NSA has built a gargantuan data center in Utah to mine, analyze, and store data it collects on you. The internet, telecommunications systems, and snail mail is collectively the world’s largest data mine. It’s easy to shrug off Big Brother’s nefarious activity if we convince ourselves that if we keep our noses clean, censor what we say or do, and don’t leave Stepford that we’ll pass safely under the surveillance radar. Why does Big Brother target us? Why do nosey neighbors spy and pry into our lives at home? We’re curious people, we humans. What we don’t know is either a potential threat or ignorant blissfulness. Big Brother operates under the obvious assumption that the enemy is within and is likely to communicate with hostile elements external to our borders. When it isn’t feasible to control or isolate a segment of a population, you round them all up for containment. We did precisely that to the Japanese-Americans during WWII. When you’re acutely paranoid ignorance is not bliss.

The needs of the few (Big Brother) outweigh the needs of the many (We the People). Some people don’t have a problem with that; these are the same people who believe it’s acceptable to sacrifice privacy and a few personal freedoms for the good of all under the watchful eye of Big Brother. Should we be alarmed or bury our heads in the sand? Ask a Londoner or the Brazilian president; they might entertain that question for hours, as the UK notably has the largest installed base of CCTV cameras in Europe and Dilma Rousseff felt compelled to lash out as if she personally had her privacy violated by Big Brother.

It’s quite astonishing to comprehend the long reach of Big Brother around the globe. At the end of the day, does it really matter that an NSA analyst heard you discuss with a foreign national how you unintentionally discovered your grandmother wears florescent green thongs? Not really, because we can find out that kind of information through social media. Having our privacy violated is becoming the norm, sacrificing a few freedoms in exchange for enhanced national security seems reasonable, and national identification cards loaded with our digital spoor is a cool idea. How far will this scenario manifest itself at our continued expense of declining privacies and freedoms? Perhaps the proverbial line in the sand will be the bedroom and bathroom, the last frontiers of privacy. That’s not such a bad deal after our DNA, voice prints, finger prints, and digital tracks are surreptitiously collected and stored at the new NSA Utah data center, is it?