Is Big Brother watching us?

By Emma Brooks

My attention was recently drawn to a new document released by the UK government called “the Interception Modernisation Program”. This document suggests an improvement on the collection of communications information, in order to protect us better. This got me thinking about the possible threats we are surrounded by, and also how many tools we have at hand in order to achieve what we want. Nowadays we have so many means of communication at our disposal it seems that we could stay connected to the whole world 24/7 if we chose to, and some people do. What with landlines, mobile phones, computers, the internet, 3G, GPS, all of these millions of facilities to make us easier to be reached and found, communication is definitely much faster and much easier than it was before. But how does this affect us?

Obviously this has its advantages, for people who are fanatics of social networking, or for workaholics, but it also has its dangers. For a start, we are constantly being reminded that we mustn’t put up too much information on social networking sites for fear of having our identity stolen. Google earth shows scarily precise images of the street you live on, if not your house. Your movements can be tracked in many different ways, and although photo sharing, and blogging can be fun, it is also revealing an awful lot of private information on oneself.

It also has its dangers where public security is concerned, and this is where the “Interception and Modernisation Program” comes in. Terrorists have access to the same amount of information everyone else does but they make use of it in different ways. They can see buildings in exactly the same detail on google earth maps, they can build websites instructing people how to build bombs, they can use all of these different means of communication to keep in touch, transfer information, make plans, and can do it secretly too. Essentially, what we consider a blessing so do they, though not for the same reasons.

This is why governments feel the need to go through our communications information, to keep tabs on us via our daily use of phones, google, and facebook, in order to make sure that we are not about to become the next Al Qaeda. Even though it is possible to understand the threats we are facing today, and to see how efficient governments have been in preventing terrorist attacks, does this justify what could be described as snooping around in our lives? Does the fact that “rapid changes are occurring” in the communications industry mean that we have to suffer yet more prying into our privacy? It is already strange enough to see posters asking us to report any people taking “suspicious photos”, to be followed on CCTV, and to be questioned by the police about things we have done and already forgotten about.

What more do they want? We all understand the necessity of trying to keep tabs on terrorist and criminal action as much as possible, but why should it have to involve our personal details? If surveillance wasn’t as developed as it is now and we were targeted by terrorists would we regret not having allowed the government to pry more? But if they pry too much will we feel like we are in the Truman show?

Once again, it is a very difficult idea to balance. On the one hand we want our own safety, on the other our own privacy. So what exactly is the right solution and where does the happy medium lie? It will take a while before the government finds the happy medium, as well as preventing potential terrorist attacks.

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