When I was young, we would be assigned to read books like 1984 in high school. These were viewed as dystopian novels, as cautionary tales. We would have the usual earnest class discussions. Some feared the outcome, some thought it unlikely. But everyone agreed that it would be a really bad thing.
Robin Hanson points out that 1984 has arrived, albeit 27 years late. And what’s interesting is that no one seems to care:
Soon the police will always be watching every public move you make:
“A vast system that tracks the comings and goings of anyone driving around the District. … More than 250 cameras in the District and its suburbs scan license plates in real time. ..
With virtually no public debate, police agencies have begun storing the information from the cameras, building databases that document the travels of millions of vehicles. … The District [of Columbia] … has more than one plate-reader per square mile, the highest concentration in the nation. Police in the Washington suburbs have dozens of them as well … creating a comprehensive dragnet that will include all the approaches into the District. … The data are kept for three years in the District. … Police can also plug any license plate number into the database and, as long as it passed a camera, determine where that vehicle has been and when. …”
As prices rapidly fall, this will be widely deployed. Unless there is a public outcry, which seems unlikely at the moment, within twenty years most traffic intersections will probably have tag readers, neighboring jurisdictions will share databases, and so police will basically track all cars all the time. With this precedent, cameras that track pedestrians and people in cars via their faces and gaits will follow within another decade or two.
If firms tried to set up camera networks to collect and sell similar info, I would expect an outcry and regulations to stop them. But police will be not only be allowed to continue, they’ll probably also succeed in intimidating citizens away from recording police interactions with citizens, no matter what the official rules say.
I’m not really sure what to say, so I’ll provide two endings to this post and you can choose the one you prefer.
Ending #1: My fellow Americans have become a bunch of pathetic sheep. We’ve been cowed by authorities with their phony wars on terror, drugs, and crime. We meekly submit to all sorts of indignities. We’ve lost the spirit of 1776. We now prize security above liberty. Soon it will be impossible to teach 1984 in classrooms, as students will wonder; “what’s the big deal?”
Ending #2: Sumner, you’re just an old reactionary. Time moves along, and the world doesn’t cater to your preferences, it reflects the desires of the next generation. They grew up with computers, social media, cell phones, etc. They are quite comfortable with the fact that there is no privacy in a technocracy. Your childhood was just a brief interlude between millenia of village life, with no privacy about what you purchased or where you traveled, and the coming millenia of technocracy, where big brother will know everything. You just happened to have been born in a time when big cities granted anonymity, but technology hadn’t yet advanced enough for bureaucracies to know everything about us. You should just hole up in a hotel penthouse in Vegas and watch reruns of your precious 1940s film noirs. Nobody else cares; indeed in a few more decades no one will even be able to understand those films. Hire a detective to find someone? What would be the purpose when everyone knows where everyone else is?