Sunday, July 19, 2009

America's Most Wanted paranoia

A story on America's Most Wanted last night made me sit up and take notice. Police in some cities are using software that allows them to find people trading child porn across the Internet. They aren't releasing a lot of information on the nuts and bolts of it, but in its database the software has the names of files, movies and pictures that are known child pornography. So when that stuff goes from one computer to another they have a record, and they can go bust the person receiving it.

First off, I have no love for child porn or people who exploit children in any way. The software the police are using tracks peer-to-peer distribution of the files. I'm happy they are able to get some of the worst offenders by using technology, but my paranoia rises when I see a story like this.

Technology doesn't confine itself to just one thing. If it can track child porn files between computers it can track any kind of file. Companies fire people who use the Internet inappropriately because they can see what is going through their system. That's the thing: it's THEIR system, and they are paying for it and for their employees to be working, not goofing off online or downloading pornography. I have no problem with that, and I think most employees are getting savvy that there are a lot of no-no's when using the boss's network.

But on a personal basis I would have a problem if, in my state, the most Republican state in the U.S., someone were to have software that identified anyone getting files from Democratic headquarters. Not just that, but anything that someone is looking out for. And it doesn't even have to be the government doing it. If they have the technology then it, or a variation of it, could be available for private firms checking into your Internet usage. Maybe you've applied for a job and someone is peering in at what you look at online or what you send in your e-mails, then reporting to your potential employer. There are any number of reasons I think this sort of technology is Orwellian. You are stupid, too. Youmake it real easy for someone if they're looking at your Facebook or MySpace account and find pictures of you at a drunken party exposing yourself.

In some sense I understand why law enforcement does this, why people want to check up on other people, but it all builds my sense of paranoia, that we are being constantly watched, we are out of control of our lives, and that all the technology we use, computers, cell phones, etc., can and will be used against us. The genie is out of the bottle, folks, and isn't getting back in.

To those who might say, "If you haven't done anything wrong you don't have anything to worry about," I'll bet you whistle past graveyards, too.

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