Stephen A. Masker

Technology | You think you have rights, wait ’till tomorrow

In Uncategorized on November 20, 2009 at 2:05 AM

The all-seing-eye

As a junior Photojournalism Major at the University of North Texas, I have been closely monitoring the recent developments and uncanny advancements in technology, specifically user-generated, ‘we-media’ classifications, but also general corporate and multinational systems.

As I believe technology to always be an interesting topic and one of diverse consequence, I can not help but to anticipate the newest, fastest, next-best-device that helps in someway to improve or make simpler the quality of life for me and others.

On the other hand, however, I express an escalating sense of fear pertaining to the augmentation of such engrossing technologies. The future is uncertain, but what remains to be observed is the conclusion that as these new technologies advance, it becomes blatantly difficult to undermine the concept that a larger amount of our Constitutional rights are being diminished.

The fundamental concept I wish to convey in this blog is that while technology is captivating and stimulating and compulsive, it needs to have boundaries. As the future progresses and these new technologies are unveiled, we need to approach the boundaries of their limitations with exceptional caution and always remain cognizant of our freedoms and privacy.

As I stated, technology in my opinion is a double edged sword. While it may improve the quality of life, it can also at times impair it.

Take for example the invention of the Cotton Gin. Invented in 1794 by Eli Whitney it was designed to quickly and easily separate cotton fibers from the seeds, a job previously done by hand. In performing its duty solely as a piece of technology, it also presented a more disturbing creation.

As a result of the technology invented to help and assist in the production of cotton in the American South, the wholesale price of cotton plummeted as output increased dramatically. Additionally, the cotton gin furthered the expansion of slavery throughout the south as laborers were needed to plant and harvest the cotton.

Because 1794 and the concept of buying and selling humans in the form of slavery might be difficult for some reading this to relate to, I can presume that to enhance my conviction a more modern example might be necessary.

In 2010, take for example the idea of RFID chips, also known as radio-frequency identification. RFID is a rapidly developing technology that in its simplest form allows a chip to be embedded within any object allowing it to be tracked and for it to carry a set of pre determined information. The advantages of RFID over the barcode are striking, the tag does not have to be physically scanned or read in any way, so merely being within proximity of a detection unit allows the data to be read, no more creased barcodes, no more swipe cards.

So what about this RFID chip? Well… the advantage is that you can track literally any object in the world when it passes over a scanner. So take for instance a coke can tagged with an RFID chip that’s found at the scene of a crime. Lets say, for sake of example, that the fingerprints can’t be identified on the coke can. All the detective needs to do is pull out his scanner and instantly the time, date, location and name, address, vehicle, phone number, social security number, height, weight, age, place of work and any and all other information you could ever ask for is present and fully accessible.

Now you’re asking – how did all of that information become available from a coke can tagged with an RFID? Here’s how:

The RFID placed on the can will more than likely retain several features including time, date and location. Assuming now that the buyer, the criminal, paid with credit or debit, that transaction can also be tracked through not only his bank’s database records but also through the store’s. And of course as soon as your name is acquired, the rest is just cake. You’re of course going to be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles, have or had some form of employment, a physical address of residence – and then phone numbers age, height, weight, etc. just fall into place.

Now, we’ve just helped solve a crime via RFID – but back to the double-edge sword of technology. Now lets assume I really want to see how far this technology can go. Why not put it on your shirt when it’s manufactured? or.. your car? Or your cell phone, or watch, or even on you. Imagine someone you don’t know knowing exactly where you are at any time anywhere on the planet.

It shouldn’t be that great of a surprise. If you haven’t looked at Google Maps recently, you can probably view a ‘Street-View’ image of the front of your house taken from a camera mounted to the top of a vehicle.

It’s fascinating, right? Punch someone’s name into and see what return address you get – take that and then punch it into google maps and instantly you can view the front of their house. An invasion of privacy? Not really.. legally you can take a photograph of almost anything as long as it’s from public property such as the street… but what if this technology too advances further than it already has? Of course it’s going to.

What if in three years I told you there will be satellite systems that can render 3-dimensional models of not only the exterior of your house, but also the interior. What if I told you that every e-mail you’ve ever written or replied to through google or otherwise was made fully public and searchable through the internet.

Further, what if I told you this was being done now, today.

I’d like to conclude with a famous quote that comes to mind right now concerning the advancement of technology which I believe encapsulates my ever growing apprehension to welcome its arrival: Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

  1. Interesting post. Did you check out MSNBC’s hour-long special on google? To your point, our lives are open books to a certain extent. The issue becomes how do we continue to foster technological developments that further the gathering and distribution of content, but at the same time protect our rights to privacy?

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