Coalition to Govern America
February 15, 2015
I'm not a luddite. I actually very much enjoy technology. If you had told me, however, just 10 years ago that the American people would happily welcome eavesdropping devices into their homes so that corporations and even the government could listen in on their private conversations, I'd have laughed in your face. The American people are ignorant, but they're not that stupid, I would have said. They've read, studied, and discussed Orwell. They understand the concept of Big Brother, and they don't want him — it — snooping around in their private affairs. Sadly, it increasingly seems that I would have been wrong.
We talked, last November, on Govern America about the product from Amazon called Echo. This is a device that you bring into your home, which is "always on", according to its own promotional materials. There are multiple microphones so that it can "hear" you any place in the room. Echo plays music, it tells jokes, it knows the weather, it helps the children with their homework. It wakes Dad for work. It provides him traffic reports, flight information, and "news" updates from National Public Radio. It also feeds everything you say back to servers at Amazon, and — who knows where else? Partner companies? The NSA? Does anyone check? Does anyone care? No, because it's "cool" technology. It's just like the computer we grew up watching on Star Trek. You say it, it delivers.
Except that it isn't like that at all. I still couldn't tell Echo to make me a cup of coffee with two creams and be sipping moments later. Not yet, you say, but give it time. Perhaps, that will be in a later version. I still would not accept it into my home, but I appear to be in the minority. People are throwing caution to the wind, and welcoming these technologies with open arms.
I suppose it shouldn't be surprising, given we have an upcoming generation that never knew what it was like not to be "connected". My employment regularly affords me the occasion to drive around the campus of a major university, where I am struck by the number of young people who walk in hallways, on sidewalks, and into traffic, never taking their eyes off of their smart phone screens. It is as if the phone has already become an attached appendage. As they walk into the street, I place my foot on the brake pedal while they cross, their eyes never breaking contact with the matrix. Personal safety? Who needs it when you have Candy Crush, Angry Birds, text messages, or "social" media?
We now have the recent admission from Samsung that their Smart TVs are listening to everything in the room, by default. One supposes the reason this was disclosed by the company is because people would have found out on their own, evenutally, and it is better for them to hear it directly from Samsung than from another source. It also removes potential liability, and makes the company appear as if they are being forthright, honest, and therefore, trustworthy. Let's hope.
The trouble is, we are left with the question of whether that hope is all to which we have to cling.
What are the ramifications of such revelations? We can only imagine. If you cough too much, will a sign light up when you walk into the store for Robitussin? If you get into an argument with your spouse, or spank your children, will you get a knock at the door from family services?
Every one of these companies are subject to NSA snooping, FISA court orders, government mandates, warrantless wiretaps, and datacenter visits. Hence, even if the companies themselves are well-intentioned — that in itself takes a great leap of faith to believe — the voyeuristic busybodies in our "federal family" have demonstrated they are not. They do not respect privacy; they do not respect ordinary, innocent people; they certainly do not respect our rights. This is not paranoia; this is a proven fact. Add to that the ever-present and oft-irresistible temptation of corporations to sell the private data of the people who keep them in business, and you have embarked upon an era where privacy is getting its last rites.
I have nothing to hide, you say. Then, go outside, right now, and completely disrobe in public. These are the stakes you face, compliant human resource, but it should not be a problem for you. Cameras and microphones in your house, cameras and microphones in your bedroom, cameras and microphones in your bath — what's the problem? You have nothing to hide, comrade worker. Smile real big, now.
If this sounds like a far-fetched, outlandish argument, then you've forgotten one of the most fundamental truths of tyranny: incrementalism rules. The greatest mountains are moved one grain of sand at a time. Even so, your "federal family" has been employing backhoes and bulldozers of late. Haven't you heard? You might be a terrorist.
The companies that profit from the collection of your data, work with them. They have no choice if they want to stay in business, but the slimy snoops couldn't have done it without a willful and compliant citizenry. A citizenry that rushes to document every aspect of their empty and pathetic lives in each electronic venue, providing endless play-by-play status updates of every life event, regardless of how mundane. A citizenry that "checks in" at every location, using their GPS-enabled gadgets, providing endless Snapchats, selfies, and Facebook status updates to chronicle their dreary lives for their intelligence agency masters. We could not have made it any easier for them.
On March 20, 1962, Aldous Huxley, the renowned author of Brave New World stood before an audience of wowed students at Berkeley and spoke of what he called, "The Ultimate Revolution". It would be a revolution wherein the conquerors would rule the masses by inducing them to welcome, embrace, and even love their servitude. He explored many ways in which this might be accomplished. He died the following year, but if Huxley were alive today, even he would be astonished at their success.