Big Brother vs. Big Uncle; the opposing sides of the loss of privacy to security systems
The changing world creates pressures to employ technology advances for our protection. As these advances compromise our privacy, they also drive social change in our attitudes to privacy. Business and government are working to set standards and policies to ensure these security advances deliver us benevolent security: Big Uncle, not Big Brother.
Either is possible with the technology: benevolent security is dependent on the legal, social and business policies that govern the technology.
In previous posts about Big Uncle, we discussed how immense amounts of data are assembled about us, gradually eroding privacy. The application of advanced technologies gives us hope of finding the evil terrorist needle in that haystack. Modern concepts of privacy are just that: modern. In most places and times, people live with far less privacy than the Western world has become accustomed to.
Now things are returning to normal: get over it. We can be quite apathetic about much of this change, but the community will speak up whenever it goes too far – defining the limits through outcry.
More security systems that intrude into our privacy are inevitable given the rise of terrorism. Society will get used to conceding privacy over time. But the initial reaction of many to these more integrated security systems will be that they represent “Big Brother”. Originally Big Brother was the supreme ruler in George Orwell’s novel 1984: “At the apex of the pyramid comes Big Brother. Big Brother is infallible and all-powerful… Nobody has ever seen Big Brother... BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU… There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time… You had to live … in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and … every movement scrutinised”
In contemporary usage Big Brother is a mythical entity who is all knowing, all powerful, secretive and despotic. The image is often invoked in privacy discussions, always pejoratively.
If we accept that increased security is essential in response to modern threats, we must all ensure that the resulting erosion of privacy does not result in an erosion of freedom and democracy. It especially falls on IT workers to ensure technology is put to work benevolently.
The result of increased security does not have to be Big Brother. It can be “Big Uncle”: a powerful force working in the interests of the community to preserve and protect. Smokey the Bear with wiretaps.
|BIG BROTHER||BIG UNCLE|
|All knowing||Appropriately knowing|
We'll talk more about Big Uncle in future posts.