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The Paranoid Android
...musings of a mechanically depressed robot...
Human rights versus public safety
With recent news about amending the Human Rights law and news that an American TelCo has been caught snooping on the Internet it raises the question:

What is the acceptable balance between Human Rights and Public Safety?

On one extreme there's the notion that if you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to hide... and the other side that frees murderers and rapists due to their Human Rights... with the ideal being somewhere in the middle.

BUT... that's the trouble of it.  Where in the middle?

There are plans to attach a device to all cars that will be tracked by satellites to enable the government to charge road tax by the mile.  This will mean the cars that travel the most will pay the most.  As a non car owner that sounds reasonably fair to me... but there are side effects that need to be taken into consideration.

If the government can track your car, they will always know where it is.  If they always know where it is (in real time) they can also work out how fast you are travelling.  If they know that - they can issue you with a speeding ticket automatically.  If there is a murder or a robbery they can list all the peoples cars in the area.

At first glance this also seems reasonable from a "If you've done nothing wrong" (IYDNW) perspective... but what happens when the government start telling you that travelling more than 20 miles a day is wrong. (I know it's not likely - but lets hypothesise... perhaps oil prices are so high that there is a ban on long trips)  What is wrong and what the people in power consider wrong could be entirely separate things.  How will the people be able to defend themselves against a tyrannical government if their every move is known?

The plans are to prohibit anyone using this information for anything other than road tax charges... but who ensures this?  The very people who would use is for other purposes.

A recent conversation with sassylidge reminded me of a quote Terry Pratchett used in his Guards novels...Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? [- Juvenal] or Who watches the Watchmen?  ...and who watches them? ...ad infinitum

Should the government be allowed to read all our email in order to find and thwart terrorist plans?  Should we all be chipped so we could never lie about where we were as our location would be read in every house, shop, car and plane we ever travelled in.  When the great sci-fi writers of the fifties and sixties wrote about "big brother" governments and being able to track every persons movements they wrote it as satire (or perhaps warning) and not prophecy... so how far will we travel down that path?

Current Location: EC2Y 9AQ
Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
Current Music: Moby - If Things Were Perfect

6 comments or Leave a comment
sassylidge From: sassylidge Date: May 19th, 2006 06:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't really know where the line is between what's acceptable and not acceptable, but I believe that there should be discussion that involves the People or the People's representatives over what is right or wrong. What makes me angry over the collecting of telephone records isn't so much that they are using those records to create a db of who's making what calls (although I don't really like that); it's the fact that they didn't ask permission to do so first. They need to follow the rules - and if there aren't rules then create some before just doing what they want in the name of "safety".

It gets dangerous to say "I'm not doing anything wrong, they won't come after me." and then give the government power to do whatever they like because in the future a government with too much power can decide that they don't like something that you are doing and toss you in jail or whatever.

It's the whole "boiling a frog" scenario. If you place a frog in cold water and gently raise the heat, it will boil to death and not jump out of the pot. I just want the government to be questioned every step of the way so we don't find ourselves in a pot of boiling water, y'know?

I think in the next 20 years, one of the biggest issues that people are going to revolt over is the handling of personal data - both by governments and by corporations. Who has the right to your data? Is there a right to privacy? That sort of thing. These are questions that have come up in the past, but it's only been in the last ten years that the ability to basically track everyone in the Western World has come into being.

Okay, I'll stop now! lol
paranoidandroid From: paranoidandroid Date: May 22nd, 2006 12:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not sure asking the people would be any good... after all "the people" have been know to decide on some rather suspect stuff in the last 100 years or so. If there is one word that can sum up a large mob of people it would be "Dumb." This is why democracies are not as effective as they should be - for every informed voter there are probably 4 who vote based on spin or looks. Every person has a right to vote - even the really stupid ones.

The peoples representatives would work if there were some way to ensure they would make their decisions in the peoples best interests and not their own. I can't remember who said "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" but it appears to be true.

Here in the UK we have a "Data Protection Act" which prevents people who don't need to know accessing personal data. How well this is enforced, and who makes sure the law are not the ones abusing the privilege is another matter... we come right back to "who watches the watchman!"

I have heard that "boil a frog" thing recently although from where escapes me. It is a perfect analogy to the creeping infractions of human rights that both the UK and USA seem to be moving toward.
From: deeevamp Date: May 19th, 2006 07:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Why not just raise the taxes on gas if they want a road tax? Wouldn't it work virtually the same? The more you travel, the more gas you use and the more taxes you pay.

I don't like any new improved ways to keep us safe. I think it has gotten far out of hand because now we are starting to move towards treating people like they are idiots. Well, they are idiots for the most part but only because we let them be. People used to be able to take care of themselves and their environments. Now they look to the government to police them completely and if the government doesn't do it then they don't. They expect them to protect their children and so on.

For instance with the phone tapping deal being birthed over here. I hear a lot of the same, "It's for our own safety. We are only trying to protect you." That just doesn't settle with me. Read our emails, listen to our phone calls, make all the devices to track our location throughout our daily lives and suddenly I'm not a free citizen but a policed prisoner.

Seeing as how many misguided arrests and sneaky devious police work leading to incorrect assumptions about people there are every day ... I am not willing to trust them to protect me. They can't even pull over the right people on the road! I can't possibly support giving them any more powerful responsibilities.
paranoidandroid From: paranoidandroid Date: May 22nd, 2006 12:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
The sad thing is - if the price of petrol was raised there would be a national outcry... but if satalite tracking were to be introduced there would be a few people protesting and they will be tarred with the "paranoid lunatic" brush.

teya_uk From: teya_uk Date: May 19th, 2006 11:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I pity the bugger who has to read my dull emails
paranoidandroid From: paranoidandroid Date: May 22nd, 2006 12:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I once toyed with PGP so my mails were all encrypted. It amused me that some government body might be spending enourmous amounts of computer power to read that I had finished reading a book and would like to borrow the next one in the series.

I wonder if they considered the mail a second code! one day I might return home and find the house surrounded by black armoured cars and men in black suits!
6 comments or Leave a comment