Surveillance is one of today's hot topics. In the UK, Theresa May continues her relentless attack on encryption and personal freedoms, with David Cameron singing the same tune. Paris was of course more wood for their fires, regardless of facts like the use of normal, unencrypted SMSs by the people involved.

But there's another aspect to government surveillance - a new kind of control over the masses. Just think about the potential of something like limitless access to everyone's privates lives:

  • real statistics on resource usage, not estimates
  • predict corporate conspiracies
  • identify individual political beliefs, figure out how they are formed, and outlaw/make it hard for those sources of ideas the government doesn't agree with to exist
  • complete, accurate public transportation usage patterns, and with it better rush hour transport allocation and alleviation
  • real, not estimated, drugs, alcohol and cigarettes consumption statistics
  • finding out which schools work and which don't, what makes them tick, and apply those findings on a national scale
  • know which people are a good match for others
  • identity mental illness sooner, and its possible causes
  • have real impact studies for government programs, learn, and tweak them to maximum efficiency
  • know who people associate with, and map society in political terms
  • answers to questions we haven't even asked yet

People are not as unique as they like to think, and all of this is pretty much knowable with the proper algorithms. The One Ring is in your hands: will you throw it onto Mount Doom and destroy it?

You need to supply a lot of information to use the Internet at home in China, and I'm pretty sure the government there is using it to make some of this a reality - not even bothering with "metadata-only" data collection. Other countries are probably aware of it too, and can't allow for a massive surveillance gap to exist once nations start optimizing their internals based on it. It's the doping argument all over again: you have to do it to compete with others who use it. And I'm sure at least some people working on these programs see it as a force for good, but something like this cannot go for long without being corrupted - it's just human nature. And that is the path to darkness.

We must fight these programs. They will only get better at defeating terrorism over time (which makes it hard to debate their existence), but that's not really their endgame. We are creating a society of people mapped by algorithms on one end, and those who tweak the knobs on the other. Wolves and sheep. Morlocks and Elois. Those who control their fate, and those seen as just background to reality. This cannot be allowed to continue.

So next time a debate on surveillance comes up, think about it in these terms: is our safety really worth the possibility of something like this coming to be?

Tags: the one ring, surveillance, state control, power, metadata collection, society