A new visualization of cellphone location data surfaced yesterday on Engadget. While it was hailed as a cool visualization of location, it is something more: it is an insight into the powers taken by European governments by means of the Data Retention Directive.
Would you want the Police to be able to see your movements and the movements of all of your friends like this? Would you want the Police under any future government and set of laws to be able to track and correlate how you and your friends move, in real time and in recorded history, like this?
Many people dismiss Data Retention with the “I have nothing to hide” shrug. That is dangerous, careless and ignorant of everything history has to teach us. If the former East European governments had had this kind of visualization on their dissidents, they would still be around. The governments, that is, not necessarily the dissidents.
It would be easy as mom’s apple pie to see when regime-critical groups would be up to something, as they would gather in a specific spot or spots. For a regime armed with this, Egypt would not have happened. Tunisia would not have happened. The entire Arab Spring would have been a joke told late nights in pubs as a “what-if”.
This is the population-control version of the military’s spy satellites, which are used to track foreign troop movements. Your government is now taking the right to track your and your friends’ movements as part of
governing ruling controlling its own territory.
Most of us are aware of how hostile governments have been to WikiLeaks, so for example, imagine if everybody connected to Julian Assange was tracked this way. Or everybody connected to Jake Appelbaum. Odds are it is already happening, but can’t be used for anything yet.
So there are four of questions you need to ask yourself, right here, right now.
First, you may have lived in a democratic country all your life, and have no reason to believe this will change. History tells us, though, that on a number on occasions, democratic countries have descended into fascism and totalitarian rule. This has happened in many and varied places, from Europe to South America to Asia.
Question 1: What reasons do you have to believe that the people in such locations and times have a radically different DNA from where you live? Rather, such developments are part of human nature and can only be countered with a carefully constructed set of checks and balances against the government.
Second, while it may be true that today’s Police won’t abuse this surveillance data (though I wouldn’t believe that in a heartbeat), it does eliminate the right to privacy to a degree that makes organized protest trivial to stop for a government that rather wouldn’t see it happen.
Question 2: Do you think this kind of tracking weakens the carefully constructed set of checks and balances on a democratic government? Does it strengthen the right to freely form opinions and protest against abuse of power, or does it weaken that right?
Third, if the ability of the people to dissent is systematically weakened like this, and the ability for all governments to uphold and enforce the laws they write are systematically strengthened in the same fashion, it means that lawmakers need not care so much about the morale of the people, but get the ability to shift gradually from governing a nation to social-engineering a nation. If all laws can be upheld, that means no laws are met with friction, and so any laws can be passed and enforced.
Question 3: If any laws can be passed and enforced, do you see this being a development good for the people and the masses, or a development that would strengthen the current elite through the letter of the law and the force of the police?
Which leads us to —
Question 4: Is the above tracking really a tool that you are prepared to give to any future government where you live?
If not — it is more than time to take a stand for privacy. If you live in Europe, start by fighting the Data Retention Directive.