The Emergency Pudding

 One of the issues we face in understanding where we stand on surveillance is that none folks know exactly how we are being surveilled, and what the approaching years might bring. Surveillance technology is developing at breakneck speed, and what seemed science-fiction 10 years ago is today old news. As an idea experiment, consider a hypothetical government that demands that each citizen wears a biometric bracelet that monitors blood heat and heart-rate 24 hours each day. The resulting data is hoarded and analyzed by government algorithms. The algorithms will know that you simply are sick even before you recognize it, and that they also will know where you’ve got been, and who you’ve got met. The chains of infection might be drastically shortened, and even cut altogether. Such a system could arguably stop the epidemic in its tracks within days. Sounds wonderful, right? The downside is, of course, that this is able to give legitimacy to a terrifying new closed-circuit television. If you recognize, for instance, that I clicked on a Fox News link instead of a CNN link, which will teach you something about my politics and maybe even my personality. But if you’ll monitor what happens to my blood heat, vital signs and heart-rate as I watch the video clip, you’ll learn what makes me laugh, what makes me cry, and what makes me really, really angry. It is crucial to recollect that anger, joy, boredom and love are biological phenomena a bit like fever and a cough. an equivalent technology that identifies coughs could also identify laughs. If corporations and governments start harvesting our biometric data end bloc, they will get to understand us much better than we all know ourselves, and that they can then not just predict our feelings but also manipulate our feelings and sell us anything they need — be it a product or an official. Biometric monitoring would make Cambridge Analytica’s data hacking tactics appear as if something from the Stone Age. Imagine North Korea in 2030, when every citizen has got to wear a biometric bracelet 24 hours each day. If you hear a speech by the good Leader and therefore the bracelet picks up the tell-tale signs of anger, you’re finished. You could, of course, make the case for biometric surveillance as a short-lived measure taken during a state of emergency. it might get away once the emergency is over. But temporary measures have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies, especially as there’s always a replacement emergency lurking on the horizon. My home country of Israel, for instance, declared a state of emergency during its 1948 War of Independence, which justified a variety of temporary measures from press censorship and land confiscation to special regulations for creating pudding (I kid you not). The War of Independence has long been won, but Israel never declared the emergency over, and has not abolished many of the “temporary” measures of 1948 (the emergency pudding decree was mercifully abolished in 2011). Even when infections from coronavirus are right down to zero, some data-hungry governments could argue they needed to stay the biometric surveillance systems in situ because they fear a second wave of coronavirus, or because there’s a replacement Ebola strain evolving in Central African Republic, or because . . . you get the thought. an enormous battle has been raging in recent years over our privacy. The coronavirus crisis might be the battle’s tipping point. For when people are given a choice between privacy and health, they’re going to usually choose health.

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