Monday, 9 July 2007

Big Brother is already watching You!

Continuing the theme from my last blog entry, in regards to the idea of a “Big Brother” state impeding over individual rights…so what’s the deal with individual privacy erosion anyway? Well as far as I’m concerned that boat has not already sailed, but is over the horizon out of sight, the George Orwell “1984” state is already here!

Let’s look at the evidence in the UK. The UK is the most CCTV intensive country in the world, the average UK citizen is caught on CCTV cameras 300 times a day. However since the general induction of CCTV into urbans and shopping environments, which first appeared in the UK 50 years ago, CCTV has played a vital role in solving many crimes, and now plays a role in crime prevention in all UK city centres.

Moving on, Tesco is the UK’s leading Supermarket, they are probably best described as more of a multi-billion pound corporation, as staggeringly Tesco account for £1 out of every £7 spent in the UK high street. Tesco success is built on data mining, as for many years Tesco has tracked all purchases by individual/household via a club loyalty card. In exchange for fractions of pennies off future items, the vast majority of UK citizens are providing detailed information about our shopping habits to Tesco and other like minded companies. They know know what you like buying, when, where, how often and even how much you spend on average at specific times. Do we care? Well the vast majority of people appear not to.

For many years now anyone arrested and charged in the UK, innocent or not, is forced to provide their DNA to the police, this DNA goes into the national DNA database. From my point of view I think it's great how this database is being used to solve a variety of crimes these days, even solving unsolved crimes from decades ago in the past. The "hoax" Yorkshire ripper for example was caught courtesy of this database last year. The hoaxer sent tapes to the police in late 1970s, which messed up the pursuit of the real killer, who was able to kill several times further. So a couple of years ago, the police managed to obtain DNA from the envelope in which the hoaxer sent the tapes. The made a near match on DNA database, from which they were able to conclude the person it matched was a near relative to hoaxer, so after questioning the family, they got their man.

The Police DNA database is ever growing, although the suggested future plans for it’s use is kind of scary, as there has already been calls by a senior policemen to put “everyone” on it, or at least all foreign nationals, I think another decade from now, that won't be too far-fetched an idea.

Car congestion charging cameras monitor our driving activity, with the London scheme area ever growing and new schemes planned in other cities such as Manchester, which doesn't even need it. The UK government has already commissioned a trial into satellite tracked "pay tax as you drive" technology, which is seen as a replacement to the UK tax disc and fuel duty, so all your car movements will be tracked and held. It could even be used to dish out speeding tickets, as it would know if you drove over the limit in specific areas!

The UK National Identity cards are just around the corner, and as everyone has a mobile phone these days, it is possible to track an individual’s general location. I've already blogged about Google's tracking of searches, coupled with ISP monitoring, it just about every covers aspect there is.

You simply cannot survive in the UK without a bank account, there’s hardly a job that doesn’t pay direct into a bank account, even the benefits systems pays directly, therefore “Big Brother” knows your finances as well. In fact most bank’s anti-fraud systems are able to detect out of character purchases (which I also think is great), so our account activity is already being passively monitored.

To sum up, when you actually sit down and think about it, it is staggering how much information on our lives is currently being gathered, monitored and continually held. What “they” do with this information is one concern, another is how they are securing it, either way it is worth noting the UK government has a general “get out of jail free” card in terms of the UK data protection act, on the grounds of protecting national security.

Probably one of the biggest fears I have is with the DNA database, as sooner or later the health service will use one, and lets be honest the UK health service can't do much right at a management level. They can't even enforce basic physcial security at hospitals or even prevent basic infections, so it doesn't look too good for data security. Imagine what a fraudster or even an Insurance company could do with a DNA database?

Welcome to 1984.

1 comment:

Dave Whitelegg CISSP said...

CCTV played a vital part in getting the conviction of 21st July attempted London bombers yesterday, with CCTV footage from the bus, tube trains and stations being used to demostrate the intent.