I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me by Emily Smart

Your Facebook status – is it really of national importance?

I was going to write a post about spying, networks, Prisms and privacy, but I’m not sure I’m in possession of all the pertinent facts. I’m a little bit mystified as to why everybody is up in arms about this. Are we really surprised that intelligence agencies follow us on social media sites? Poor buggers is all I can say. How boring can it be reading the ordinariness of people with ordinary lives? I won’t name and shame, but here’s a selection from some Facebook statuses I viewed last week:

‘My big toe nail is hanging off.’

‘Time for bed methinks – when did that word pop back into fashion? – nite nite (sic).’

‘Don’t forget the PTA at school tomorrow night. In-box me if you’re coming.’

And my particular favourite – ‘I think I answered the cost of 12hrs of electricity was $1200, for a question in my physics exam… Does that sound right?’

Knock yourself out the CIA. Who wouldn’t want to be ‘spying’ on that lot? Are ‘terrorists’ really plotting attacks via Foursquare? I honestly don’t know, but given the proliferation of social media websites, the number of email accounts one can have, and the trillions of words, images and photos that the world commits to the ether each day, how can threats be spotted, metadata or no metadata?

Life under a social media microscope

And, while I’m bleating on, is there such a thing as privacy these days? What is it? Who defines what it is and how do you monitor it? Everyone I know (apart from grumpy Uncle Matthew) is on Facebook. We now share the most intimate details of our lives with friends, family, acquaintances and people we went to school with in 1978. If we’re not tweeting, texting, or photographing, we’re putting our lives online for all to see. Good grief even MI6 has its own website. Surely someone’s having a laugh? ‘Get live feeds and follow the assignments of undercover operatives through RSS.’ https://www.sis.gov.uk

Private lives

One of the reasons I left the UK in 2007 was because I was absolutely fed up with the lack of privacy. Some bright spark had just introduced the congestion charge (a fee for driving your car through inner city London) for people who live, work and visit the capital. They put up loads of cameras to snap you and sent you an astronomic fine if you hadn’t coughed up the 8 notes penalty. I received a fine. I also got one for driving in a bus lane at the wrong time of day and was actually sent a picture of myself as the said offence was taking place – don’t think they got my best side, but that’s beside the point.

I did a bit of research and according to The Guardian in 2011: “You’re being watched: there’s one CCTV camera for every 32 people in the UK. Research shows 1.85m machines across Britain, most of them indoors and privately operated.” Scary canary. Or is it? I guess there’s the argument that if you’re not doing anything ‘wrong’ (cripes that covers a multitude of sins) then why worry if you’re being filmed? Don’t be fooled into thinking there’s more privacy in New Zealand: “Surveillance cameras are now so powerful that they were able to zoom in on individual spectators at the Rugby World Cup and read their text messages. Details of police monitoring used for the first time during the tournament were discussed at a privacy forum in Wellington yesterday, at which it was revealed that the average person is digitally recorded about a dozen times a day – and even more if they use email and social media frequently.”

Still, I did once take a wrong exit at a roundabout in Auckland, found myself heading onto the motorway and was able to reverse and get back on the roundabout without being filmed by anyone. Now that wouldn’t have happened on the M25!

Apparently you can buy loyalty

As someone who works in  a sector where knowledge is certainly power, I might also just mention loyalty cards. Everyone loves them (even grumpy Uncle Matthew), and what is a loyalty card? A chance to know every detail about you, from name, age, and address to what cream you buy to treat your haemorrhoids. Wikipedia reckon there were 15 million active Tesco Clubcard cardholders in the UK market during 2009/10. It’s no coincidence that Clubcard members get incentives to purchase their favourite products via coupons in the post. The data the retailers have on you is phenomenal. Then there are the banks, credit card companies and insurance people who all share information about you. Not to mention the swipe and go Oyster cards for use across London transport, where all your journeys can be traced. Oh and  let’s not forget the mobile phone, which means we can be tracked, traced, eavesdropped and even have our text messages read.  From where I’m sitting (typing on a computer and sharing my thoughts about life via a blog site) we all like to share when it rewards us, gives us pleasure or makes our lives easier, and yet all hell breaks loose when lovely Kate Middleton gets photographed with her norks out on holiday.

One night in Paris

People of the universe, or at least the three people that read this post: there is no such thing as privacy, even what you get up to in your own bedroom can easily find its way to an external audience – just ask Katie Price or Paris Hilton. Is it right? I really don’t know. But what I will say is that the kids of today live their lives for all to see, and I can’t imagine that changing in a hurry. Intelligence agencies have always done things they’re not allowed to do (both from legal and moral perspectives) and things we probably wouldn’t agree with, but transparency in these realms is debatable when it comes to dealing with suicide bombers and extremists intent on destruction.

If you really want things to stay on the down low, join MI6, but for God’s sake don’t kill yourself accidentally hanging from a chandelier with an orange up your bum or you can guarantee your big hairy arse will be front page news!

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