Our government and business leaders are building architectures of citizen and customer surveillance that may be hard to dismantle, warns computer scientist and privacy activist Marc Rotenberg, founder and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C. An edited version of his interview with executive editor Marcia Stepanek follows.
Consider for a moment, on the 100th anniversary of George Orwells birth, the interplay between technology and privacy. In 1984, Orwell reminded us that technology helps governments and institutions to consolidate power. The book also describes the use of technologies like the telescreen to observe people in their private lives, to limit them and to create among individuals a sense that they are constantly being watched—the Big Brother concept.
Today, in the U.S., we dont have that kind of consolidated, centralized control, of course, but its not hard to imagine that over time, through a combination of technology and political changes, aspects of that type of control could emerge. Right now were seeing a lot more money coming from the government to build new types of surveillance and domestic spying systems. In the business world, were seeing all sorts of new tracking technologies, like RFID systems, being used to find out more about customers and how they use products in the home.