“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
The potential that large collections of data hold for those wishing to control or gain insight into their fellow man is not a modern concept. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was renowned for his ability to deduce people’s lives from a few minute details. But it is only recently that the collection of such data has become possible on a global scale.
As Alice Marwick’s article points out, the NSA and corporations such as Google and Facebook have been compiling enormous quantities of information on us, the former in the name of “protecting” us, the latter in order to provide better advertising, apps, games, and shopping. We must ask however, is the forfeiture of our private lives a fair price to pay for more convenient lives? I believe the lack public outrage over this data collection stems from a lack of understanding as to just how powerful your data is – and how much power it gives others over you. This video clip from the TV series “Person of Interest”, while entirely fictional, shows just how flippant we are with our data.
Small details like the fact that you bought a bottle of cocoa butter lotion may not alone be significant, and certainly don’t seem significant to us at the moment they are recorded. But stores such as Target can, like a digital Sherlock Holmes, take that fact along with other data known about you and reach startlingly accurate conclusions. While this kind of targeted marketing – though creepy and underhanded – does not seem threatening, what if the organization in possession of that data had more nefarious motives?
I would like to think that sometime in the future, society will be faced with a decision: comfort and safety, or freedom. Unfortunately, I doubt that will ever happen. There will not be a moment of decision. We will simply continue to be offered more and more “convenient” technologies and a “safer” world, but tucked deep in the fine print will be our permission to tear down our walls, peek through our windows, and pick our brains. And I doubt that many will care. Hopefully, some intrepid future citizens will realize that a free life is not always a comfortable one.
Scientia sit Potentia – Knowledge is Power. And those with detailed knowledge of you have power over you.