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Erasing David

I just watched Erasing David, a documentary about a man who tried to hide from two private detectives for a month.

Amazing; you just can’t hide unless you sacrifice pretty much everything.

And this was all relatively low-tech and with almost no access to the sort information a government can use (e.g. cellphone locations, passport registration at borders, ATM withdrawals, CCTV). Not to mention the stuff that’s coming in the next few years: mass facial recognition, CCTV online, everyone on Facebook, dirt cheap and ultra fast DNA sequencing, chip based public transport, better (international) interconnecting of databases, pattern/signature recognition in arbitrary (anonymous) data and accidental/ deliberate massive leaks from central databases. And last but not least: abundant cheap (online) labor to do all the work that can’t be automated.

It’s not about having nothing to hide, it’s really about not pissing off the wrong people. In a democratic state that usually* means obey the law (but don’t upset people involved in organized crime either) and don’t date stalkers.

* = you’re out of luck if your situation is bad form of unusual though…

Of course living in just one state is sooo 1984; so in practice it’s better not to piss off the wrong people anywhere in the world.

Most debate is still focussed on trying to reduce the amount of information that governments, corporations and friends have about you. I think that’s pointless; anyone with sufficient determination and resources can find you. Given how easy it is, it’s safe to assume that anyone with the (legal or otherwise) intention to do you serious harm has that.

The only people you keep out with that technique are those who “kind of like feel like” harming you and those who wish to do you only a little bit of harm; the first category is probably tiny and the second isn’t worth the sacrifice.

If you’re on the exhibitionistic side of the scale it’s a matter of minutes, but if you live a secluded life, don’t move around too much and only have 2 friends it’s not that difficult to find you either. You may be tempted to think you’ll be on the run and alert, but someone might catch you when you aren’t even thinking of running.

So as far as I’m concerned there’s no point in reducing the amount of information about you out there, unless you can get rid of all of it, which is impractical.

My point of view is that we need to adjust the rules of society to better deal with this new Age of Data. For example a higher priority on prosecuting stalkers or otherwise stopping them.

Let’s also prevent and cure problems related to false positives. Compensation for a false arrest could be a good start. And how about (yet another) central database, but this time with identify fraud and ‘false positive’ victims. A database that must be checked before taking any unpleasant action towards a person. I believe that is much more effective than trying to remove a piece of misinformation from thousands of (poorly) interconnected systems; it’s much easier to add than to remove information.

Of course more government and corporate transparency is never a bad idea and let’s not forget those pesky semi-government organisations like “social” housing corporations and public transport chip card companies.

But I’m not sure if there’s going to be a happy ending here. The world is becoming a Global Village, but this time it’s a nasty little village that you can’t run away from.

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