Thursday, December 29, 2005

You're being watched. Right now.

It's funny. We live in an age where we're just discovering that anyone, anywhere (who happens to be rich enough to afford the required technologies) can publish anything to the Internet. And yet we're also living in an age where governments across the globe are increasingly clamping down on freedoms we have enjoyed for years. I'll say more about the 'anyone/anywhere publishing' phenomenon in another post. But first let me describe to you our living, breathing Orwellian nightmare. This isn't far off in the future - this is right here, right now.

It's been well publicised that China censors the websites its residents can visit, and requires internet companies such as Yahoo and Google to comply with its strict censorship and monitoring laws. Just recently, in fact, Yahoo assisted the Chinese government in identifying a resident (who was then jailed) who had emailed a pro-democracy group in New York through its email service. And Google, the company founded on the phrase "do no evil", lists only Chinese government approved news sources in its news search service.

The US government has recently pushed through a law that allows the FBI to request cell-tracking data from mobile phone companies without the need for a warrant, effectively allowing them to monitor the movements of any individual in the US, for any reason.

In the UK, we have more CCTV cameras per capita than anywhere else in the world. They're in our stores, our places of work, our streets, our hospitals, our busses and trains, even in some homes. Nationwide, we have over 4 million CCTV cameras. The average London road junction has 10 of them. The average UK citizen is caught on camera 300 times every single day. Come April this year, the police will capture every single motor journey that is made in the UK and store it for four years. They will then be able to search and track the movements of any vehicle they choose.

Then there's Echelon, the system that monitors almost all electronic communications that are passed around the internet, sponsored by the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It scans the hundreds of millions of emails, faxes, phone calls and web postings fired across our planet every day for keywords. When it finds them, it spits the communication out on to the desk of a human intelligence analyst for further investigation. Our mobile companies are required to hold a record of all the text messages we have sent - including the actual content of the message.

We're watched and monitored more than ever. Big Brother is no longer fiction - it's reality.


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