Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Everything You Do Is Watched and Recorded

Your private business? Think again
Waco Tribune-Herald | September 29 2004

Let's say Saturday morning you have a little time for yourself and you decide to retrieve a few bucks from your ATM, get some gas for your new car, run it through a car wash, pick up a couple of items and finish your weekly grocery shopping before your favorite college game starts at noon.

Every step you take, every corner you turn, and every purchase you make on this lazy Saturday morning will be watched and recorded.

This isn't Big Brother in a future police state. It's today in the good ol' U.S.

Most Americans, including me, don't give all this scrutiny of our daily lives much thought, if we are even aware of it. That's just as well since surveillance of our lives is here to stay and will become ever more intrusive.

For example, on your fictional Saturday morning you will be videotaped at your ATM when you insert your bank card with its magnetic strip that contains all sorts of personal information.

Your request for money will be checked against your bank balance or credit limit. Your banking, credit and debit histories are on file someplace, available for instant access. These machines are interconnected worldwide.

Low on cash one day in a small town in Italy, I used my credit card and PIN in a small, tucked-away ATM . I was both grateful and uneasy that this machine knew me well enough to give me money.

That was several years ago. Now I take it for granted that my banking history is available anywhere there is electricity.

You again use your credit card at the filling station where you can say "yes" to a discounted car wash. Once more your credit limit is checked and the transaction recorded.

At your neighborhood chain book store you pick up a paperback and an audio book for the car. Along with your credit card, you hand the clerk your store discount card, which is a good deal because it saves you money.

At the supermarket, you save even more money by using another store card that gives you points for each purchase. The store's computer keeps track of your points and periodically sends you coupons that can be used the next time you buy groceries.

When you settle onto the sofa to watch your team take the field, you give no thought to the fact that your every movement was recorded from the time you left your house until the time you returned home.

For starters, since you have a new car it's likely that you don't know it came equipped with a black box similar to those on commercial aircraft.

About the size of a book of matches, the "event data recorder" keeps track of your driving times, how often you use your car, how fast you drive, whether you use your seat belt and how you accelerate, brake, turn and more. These devices have already been built in to about 40 million cars and probably only a few car owners know it. Police and insurance companies could find this information handy. In large measure, who has access to this information, including the owner, has yet to be determined.

Every purchase you made Saturday morning was recorded, not only the price but the exact items. At the least, this information will be used for marketing. That's why your mailbox soon will be stuffed with targeted holiday catalogs.

Surveillance cameras recorded nearly all of your morning excursion. Those places that were missed likely will be recorded in the future as governments and private companies install more cameras. New cameras not only record your movements, many can use software to alert authorities to suspicious behavior.

But as long as you behave in an acceptable manner and never act suspiciously, you have nothing to worry about. Enjoy your game.