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penrose orange



cat /var/log/stephen >/dev/eyes

Is this really where we want to go?
penrose orange
This journal has been wall-to-wall geekery for a while now. Time for a break.

Sinced today is the last opportunity and I hadn't done it yet, I signed the anti-road charge and car tracking petition. As a non-driver, the proposed law won't affect me; I signed it on principle because I am utterly opposed to government tracking of private vehicles.

Whenever the subject of surveillance comes up, there's never any shortage of authoritarians bleating "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear". This attitude makes me cross.

Let's talk about Jane.

Jane doesn't exist yet. She lives in the future. Not too far in the future.

Everywhere she goes, Jane carries her national identity card. It's practically impossible to do anything without it. Not that she'd want to try, as it's made her life so convenient. Even if she did get it into her head to leave home without her ID card, she'd be in trouble if a police officer asked her to present it. Failure to prove one's identity when required to do so is a serious crime. But Jane understands the need for vigilance. Besides, she has nothing to hide, so she has nothing to fear.

Cash was abolished years ago. Now that everyone's identity cards are linked to their bank accounts, everyone has a convenient method of purchase, carried at all times. So when Jane does her shopping at her local Tesco (the retail arm of the VirginWarnerPepsiTescoToyotaMicrosoft corporation), she never finds herself with too little cash for her purchases. She never fumbles her purse, scattering coins all over the floor. And because her ID card is linked to Tesco's database, there's no need for a separate store loyalty card. Of course, her health insurance records are also linked to her ID card; her national ID number can thus be used to cross-reference the two databases. So if her insurer determines that she hasn't been buying enough healthy food, her insurance premium is likely to rise. Jane doesn't mind; she's a good girl who always eats her five recommended daily portions of fruit and veg. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

On her way home from Tesco, Jane pops into the library. None of the books in the library is newer than twenty years old; new books are distributed electronically, keyed to the national ID of the purchaser. The library is the easiest way of getting hold of old books that have not yet been made available digitally. Jane's national ID card serves as her library card, of course. Her borrowing history is thus available to the authorities. Since Jane's literary taste doesn't stretch to bomb-making manuals, computer hacking guides, or the Koran, she's not bothered. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

Jane drives home in her spiffy new car, the latest model from VirginWarnerPepsiTescoToyotaMicrosoft. The anti-theft systems are top-of-the-line; her ID card is required to deactivate the immobilizer. As she drives, the onboard tracker determines its position by GPS, logging its movement and transmitting statistics to the Department of Transport's toll computer, which deducts the appropriate fee from Jane's account automatically. Jane never drives through the bad parts of town, and always sticks to the speed limit; the authorities' knowledge of her car's position is thus of no concern to her. Indeed, it is a comfort to her; if a terrorist were to somehow disable the immobilizer and make off with her car, the authorities would be able to track it and return it to her with no difficulty.

An icon blinks on the dashboard — it's an indication that the reactor is getting low on fuel. Jane takes a short detour and drives to the nearest approved outlet to stock up on slush deuterium. Every time she refuels the reactor, the car's travel records are obtained from the Department of Transport using her national ID number; the distance she travelled per unit of fuel is thus available to VirginWarnerPepsiTescoToyotaMicrosoft. It's just market research, of course; Jane doesn't think twice about letting a private corporation have access to the data about her which the government has obtained. She hasn't modified the vehicle (which she agreed not to do when she signed the EULA that came with the car), so it's not as if she has anything to hide.

After arriving home and eating her healthy dinner, Jane fires up her computer to check her email and her favourite web sites. Her national ID card is required to connect to the Internet; every web site she visits is logged by her ISP, indexed against her ID number. Of course, it's not really possible to do anything dodgy on the Internet these days; all the filth was banished from the web when the new protocols were brought in. Jane's parents sometimes talk about the old Internet; it sounds like a lawless frontier to Jane: unlicensed computers that would run software written by any random person, plain-text protocols, near-unbreakable cryptography in the hands of the masses... Some people even used free software, or ran programs that blocked incoming adverts. Jane finds the very ideas abhorrent, notwithstanding the technological and legal restrictions. Ideas like advert-filtering and free software are in direct opposition to everything she's been taught about economic terrorism, ever since nursery school.

Jane doesn't enjoy her evening's web browsing. She's too distracted by something that happened at work today. Jane is a civil servant, working in the office of Ted, a prominent member of the Cabinet. Today, Jane discovered that Ted has been taking backhanders from corporate interests.

Although she has no direct evidence, she knows how to get it. The question is, should she? It'd be the right thing to do, of course. But she wouldn't be able to do it without being tracked. Every computer record that she views is logged against her national ID. And, should Ted find out that she's onto him, he'd have no trouble tracing her movements. Of course, he'd be in no position to stop her personally, but maybe Henry, his golfing buddy who also happens to be the local police commissioner, could help him out.

She could always enlist the help of someone who knows how to hack computer records without requiring an ID card. It's difficult, but possible. Of course, very few people try. Breach of the Digital Millennium Fraud Act carries a mandatory life sentence. People charged under the DMFA tend not to be acquitted either, especially since trial by jury was abolished for computer fraud. (Since computer fraud is a complex business, it was felt that a jury of laypeople couldn't possibly understand all the ins and outs of it, raising the possibility of a mistrial, or even a false acquittal. Far better for judges and government officials to deal with it behind closed doors).

By investigating Ted, Jane would not be doing anything wrong. But she would certainly have something to hide. In the surveillance society in which she lives, innocent people with secrets have everything to fear.