Sunday, March 19, 2006

We're already there

Further to my last post on social mapping, one thing I've been meaning to blog recently is the "Targeting Benefit Fraud" advertising campaign being run by the DWP. Some adverts are available from the above site.

The slogans run along these lines: "We can compare all sorts of information. So if you're not completely honest, we'll find out." Another one notes that, "We can compare information across government departments", to the same effect. We can see, then, that it's not as if such profiling of the individual is a surreptitious, covert operation.

The tones of the ads are both ominous and a forebearer of how the relationship between government and individual will continue to develop. Technology is here. Currently, it's being used in areas where people have responsibility to the government - i.e. accurate reporting and fraud avoidance. Curiously, it's these areas (where the technology already supposedly is in place) that ID cards are supposed to extend into as well, so perhaps there's some overlap planned there.

Honesty is a funny thing, linked intrinsically with trust. Technology used as it is replaces the need for the trust that we're used to, or at least it's supposed to (as there may be other means to fool the system). A false sense of security aside, perhaps there's nothing wrong with technology used in this way - after all, fraudsters are basically freeriders in the ubiquitous public system.

The slightly scary thing is that such a line - that we're no longer responsibile for our own responsibility, as it were - is now completely, tacitly accepted by the general population. The shift in power has already been made, and no-one's taken any notice.

This is the split between Orwellian vision and reality. 1984 presents a picture so obviously, drastically different to our "own" - an image designed and intended to shock - that we focus on that as what to "look out for" in a Big Brother government. But the people in Orwell's Airstrip One world are obviously asleep to that which controls them. Control comes slowly, and keeping an eye out for it is mostly like watching paint dry - change happens, but we're too busy watching other, "more interesting" stuff at the time, all the time.

It's only a small jump from technology looking to catch traditional fraudsters, to that which seeks to monitor all interactions of importance, for reasons stated previously. The important thing is that we're already half way there, and that going backwards is a lot harder than forwards.

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