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Polar Rose dodges thorny issues

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As the old adage about scientific knowledge goes, once the box is open, there's no way to get the jack back in it. As technology increasingly takes a more personal role in everybody's lives, and becomes yet more widespread and conjoined, another adage is catching on, which is that you're going to lose your privacy anyway, so you might as well roll with it.

It is an idea immortalised in David Brin's 1998 book, the Transparent Society, which appears to have been adopted as something of a book of Revelations for 21st century for webheads like Nyholm, or at least as a justification for a web tool that could turn the web into the means for the people to snoop effectively on the people.

The idea is that as the state will have unprecedented means to snoop on the people, citizens should be given access to those same means in order to redress the imbalance of power.

“Can we stand living exposed to scrutiny, our secrets laid open, if in return we get flashlights of our own that we can shine on anyone who might do us harm—even the arrogant and strong?" says Brin on his website.

"Or is an illusion of privacy worth any price, even the cost of surrendering our own right to pierce the schemes of the powerful?” he asks.

Only the security services have had access to this sort of facial recognition data until now, said Brin: "If you don't democratise the technology then it will be misused."

It's a nice idea, but perhaps idealistic. It assumes that the masses can be trusted not to use surveillance powers to hunt for witches.

Polar's contribution to the debate, said Nyholm, would be telling people about the reality, which is that something of this all-seeing future is inevitable.

"We will be educating people that public information is public. If its out there its very difficult not to make it searchable," he said. Your photo, name, address, telephone number, criminal record, are all publically available, he noted.

The only thing that is inevitable, if the future does play out as Nyholm sees it, is that he'll be so rich he won't have to care.®

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