A few years ago, before I had a cell phone, I went for a shopping trip. It was a beautiful blue-sky summer day and, with the radio on and a complete sense of freedom, I realized that no one in the world knew where I was.
I don’t have GPS in my car, but Columbus is littered with a number of cameras at traffic lights. If you run a red light, you receive a ticket in the mail, the middleman/cop having been removed from the process.
I use a magnetic badge to get into the office where I work. At work, my emails and web surfing are monitored, some even prohibited. Every website I visit registers my presence. Amazon remembers not only what I’ve recently purchased, but also things that I’ve browsed and, every time I visit, I am greeted with new suggestions to put into my shopping cart. Yahoo! Also manages to gather information about me, because the ads on my Yahoo! home page reflect recently browsed pages or searches. If you ever wondered why you need a little card on your key chain to shop at your local grocery store, it is their way of gathering consumer information on you. The coupons you receive with your receipt reflect your buying trends. I know a man who, every time his wife goes shopping, logs into the credit card account online to monitor her shopping spree.
While our Federal Government conducts none of this surveillance, it still smacks of Big Brother. This isn’t about national security and the government tapping our phone conversations, but all the tools are in place. Spy satellites are taking pictures of us all now; some are said to have a powerful enough resolution to read a newspaper from space.
And we are willing accomplices, giving our personal information at every turn without a thought of our privacy. On our Facebook profiles, we tell all of our friends what we’re doing at any given moment. We Twitter, we Flickr, we Digg. We have entire generations that think it is normal to surrender personal information to complete strangers. I’m aware that when privacy issues are mentioned, many people get a picture of a paranoid man living in the woods with a shotgun and a manifesto. I am not that man, but as someone who has had her identity stolen, I can tell you my electronic credit trail tells a very misleading story about me.
While London boasts the distinction of being the city with the most public surveillance cameras, this is a growing trend. Will health insurance companies start monitoring how much wine I drink? Will a potential employer review my genetic records along with my resume? Could I be unjustly fired for transactions on my credit card that were not my own? How far into the future will we see computers like those seen on CSI and 24 that bring up every minute detail of a person’s life?
And what would it take to fall off the grid?