Do YOU like your privacy? And make it snappy: yes? no?
Should your answer be the former, YES, that is, here’s a shock: you haven’t enjoyed it since time immemorial. Someone would always sniff around you. And you wouldn’t know.
But the relatively recent explosion of technology has made privacy well-nigh impossible. Which shouldn’t be causing any issues, except it may be injuring your own feelings from time to time. Or, worse still, it can endanger your very existence.
The technological advances of the last, say, century and a half (at least) are joined at the hip with ideological changes that claim they’re good for society while they are anything but.
They aren’t good for individuals, and that’s whom society consists of.
How about voice recognition?
When you reach your bank on the telephone, an automated greeting will inform you that your financial institution is using a voice recognition system, and it does so to protect both itself and you from fraudulent activities of others. Makes you feel great? Others are criminals, and your bank stands on guard for thee, right? You’re safe, right?
Here’s your answer: you’re anything but.
Guess when and how and where voice recognition became a substitute for fingerprints: in the Soviet Union, under Josif Stalin’s dictatorship.
Many Soviet scientists would for one reason or another end up in the infamous Gulag system of concentration camps. But when the authorities saw that those scientists’ talents and knowledge could be useful for them, they used them. They would move them into special prisons where they would remain under the strictest of guards but would be ordered to continue in their research.
These places were called Experimental Design Bureau (Russian: Опытное Конструкторское Бюро, read as opytnoe konstruktorskoe biuro). Soviet authorities knew how to obfuscate.
Russian writer Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn would reveal that the hapless scientists called it sharashka (Russian: шарашка, a whack in very loose English translation). He knew whereof he spoke: he spent time at one of such bureaus, designing mathematical models for Soviet artillery’s (read: rocketry) aiming systems.
The chief designer of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles developed his babies while behind bars.
At least, rocketry was what Sergei Korolev had been trained to do.
But the real irony came when those imprisoned scientists were ordered to come up with voice recognition systems that would be as reliable as fingerprints, if not more. The idea: with eavesdropping on telephone conversations a common occurrence, voice recognition would permit the mighty state secret political police to determine precisely who is on each end of the line. And even if you tried to change your voice, speaking like a high-pitched soprano while your original voice was in the low-pitched bass scales, or if you spoke through a handkerchief covering your mouth, it wouldn’t help.
That invention, according to Solzhenitsyn, got a couple of Soviet scientists their somewhat earlier release (after 10 years instead of a dozen) in the late 1940s.
We live in the year 2021. Can you imagine the difference between then and now?
You have nothing to fear if you hadn’t done anything wrong, defenders of these innovations say.
Depends on what the authorities define as right or wrong.
These days, it’s wrong to use your brains to enjoy having an opinion of your own. The powers-that-be say that this is how it is, and if you dare question them, you’re in trouble. If you dare object, you’re in even more trouble.
Democracy? What democracy?
All that within the context of Sir Winston Churchill’s immortal words: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
Anybody, including village idiots, has the right to vote, and most of those who can vote, can also run for office. And history tells us that one of the reasons Athens grew weak and finally lost its fight for survival was its democracy. Populism and the fact that most people don’t give a fig for basic knowledge of economy or, for example, such esoteric topics like foreign policy, should disenfranchise all ignoramuses.
Except: that would be undemocratic.
It’s not that long ago that the ivory tower inhabitants were up in arms in righteous indignation yet again (have you noticed their indignation is always righteous?): not permitting prison inmates to vote equalled what could be described as a crime against humanity. Yes, granted, those inmates would violently deprive others of their right to own property, or their right to be healthy, or their right to remain alive, even, and yet, they deserved their spot in the public square, and their voices had to be heard.
Gone are the days when a court sentence sending somebody behind bars included words to the effect that the convicted person would be deprived of her/his freedoms, including civic rights.
Criminals can vote, and that’s what the authorities of today say is right. If you disagree, you get labelled whatever pejorative word they manage to come up with while in the fit of anger. And never mind that there now exist communities where taxpayers’ money goes to criminals in an attempt to bribe them to refrain from their cruellest habits.
Why they call themselves progressive? Who knows. Lunatics would be a better word.
But, and that’s the tragedy, even if you question such policies in the peace of your own dining room, chances are the thought police will hear you and, having voice recognition systems at their fingertips, they can say precisely that it was you who had the gall to wonder.
Do you still think privacy isn’t so important as to call it one of the few hills you’re prepared to die on while defending them?
Encroachments on our privacy aren’t new. It’s the new technology that makes them even more dangerous than they used to be.
So, make sure to think twice before you wave (or stick out your tongue) at one of the many high-resolution surveillance cameras that adorn our streets all over the place. Should someone watch the screen and not like your reaction, nature be with you.
Who’s to blame?
You, and all of us. We should have yelled in protest a long time ago.