The Future of Big Brother
This happened in Palo Alto some time back: I met together with my colleague an expert of NASA with whom we have been talking about collaboration. We had a nice dinner and talked about the prospect of doing collaboration in the context of our research. I thought we got a good head start for cooperation. Some days later I received a letter from our potential partner where she expressed the concern that I had been taping all our discussion with a mobile phone I fiddled with on the table while we met. She also explained that her concern was based on the observations of some her colleagues who had been sitting in the same restaurant.
Of course I denied it saying it would have been absolutely against my code of conduct as a researcher to do so without asking permission. Little did this help and our cooperation got nowhere.
This I guess is something what can be called as "American paranoia" of which we now read from the news as Merkel's cabinet has been furious after finding out they have been surveyed by American intelligence. And Obama has a real problem explaining why they are not respecting the privacy of the foreigners in the same way that they do - in the spirit of Constitution - with their own citizens.
Yesterday I talked with some Nokia experts about this issue. As the communication networks spread and become more complex, it naturally give new potential access points for any intelligence to lurk in to do surveillance. Whatever the protection mechanisms, there are also always new means to overcome them.
I guess we can never get rid of Big Brother. But what certainly can be done by public government, is to make his work more transparent. We live increasingly in times when people request-with a due right - to know how private is their privacy. I guess most of us can accept that certain amount of Intelligence surveillance work should be done to ensure a certain level of security against hostile forces. But this should not happen in the random way.
In the decades to come, as the technological layers mount and the environment becomes more complex, there needs to be a much more intimate relationship between the "system" and everyday life of ordinary people. Great sociologists, like Jurgen Habermas, talked about this decades ago in terms of rising tension between "lebenswelt" (lifeworld) and system. This needs recognition of a new kind ethics from surveillance machinery and the Government that is supposed to look after it. But also asks for a lot of alertness from the side of citizens.
Most importantly: We should not let out societies and our own lives to be built on paranoia.