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"I have nothing to hide" - or the Sainsbury's Lesson

Guilt by association

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No. Not terrorists, just enemies. Hostile journalists, campaigning lobbyists, critical journalists, businessmen who are likely to sponsor rival parties, people who oppose the party leader's favourite idea of the year.

You, yourself, possibly don't realise where you're heading. They do. They can now take action, as appropriate.

Appropriate action? Well, they could, of course, target you for a hearts and minds educational campaign so that you see things from a better point of view. Or it could be hostility: arrange a Customs or VAT inspection, or start a smear campaign, or search aggressively for accounting irregularities.

All based on guilt by association. They may not know exactly what is in your heart. But they know who you associate with, and what other people are doing who went down that path. All that is an open book to someone with access to all your email, all your search queries, all the sites you visited, all the phone calls you made, all the books you bought or ordered from the library. "People who read this, also bought..."

You should go to Amazon and tweak its database. Give it a chance to work out which books you bought for Auntie Ena, which records you gave to your mother, which bits of hardware you got as a present for a kid, and which were things you wanted for you. And then rate them. You will find the next "we have recommendations for you...!" message spookily prescient.

And the search engines have all this, in spades. Exactly where it's going would be the subject of a $4,000 research paper. But you can bet that what they exploit today is a tiny fraction of what they can, potentially, dig out of the online data.

Of all the big search engine companies, I'd trust Google more than the rest. It has a great track record of telling the US Government to piss off when asked for data on user data patterns, when people like MSN and Yahoo! have not only provided the data, but didn't even complain about the request.

But does it matter? Frankly, the more I think about what this data mining makes possible, the more I realise it needs specific legislation, not just making it a crime to provide this sort of data to government, but making it forbidden for governments to keep.

I think that the UK and US governments in the last 10 years have shown, unambiguously, that any sort of protest, disagreement, or criticism of government is something they feel they can legitimately suppress.

If they can detect protest, disagreement, or criticism before the critic reaches the point of taking effective action, they can do so without anybody noticing. If they could have caught Brian Haw before he set up in the square in front of Parliament, how much less embarrassing it would have been!

Would they do something like that?

Frankly, anybody who can actually pass a law saying you can't open a newspaper with a critical article about the government outside Parliament, would - in my opinion - do just about anything. They believe that what they are doing is RIGHT and anybody who opposes them is BAD. Why would they not try to stop us?

The genie, unfortunately, is out of the bottle.

The data that makes humans predictable is widely available and easy to aggregate. If the data exists, and the technology is simple, then it will be used. If it becomes overtly illegal to let government have the data, then perhaps we could be safe...maybe.

But frankly, anybody who owns a credit card, bank account and a passport probably has enough data out there already to make them pretty predictable.

Don't worry about Google giving your geographical position away to corner shop coffee sellers. Worry about the governments, who will have tools of oppression that make simple Stalinesque brutality look like freedom, and who will make "pre-crime" a reality. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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