Comment: Our delusions of freedom

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Picture from stock

First published in News Watford Observer: Photograph of the Author by

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. Back in the 1970s when I used the subway under the Watford ring road to get to the girls’ grammar school every day, the graffiti always tickled me. 

You see, I’d read Nineteen Eighty-Four and knew about Big Brother, the all-seeing, all-hearing government surveillance operation in Orwell’s dystopian novel.

I always remember that line about nothing being your own in the fictional country of Oceania except "the few cubic centimetres inside your skull", because the state had absolute control over citizens’ every action and thought, through propaganda, secrecy, harsh punishment and a government that watched you 24/7 (now why didn’t Orwell choose that for his title?)

Or what about the Thought Police, who could pass you on to the so-called Ministry of Love for grisly torture if you dared think subversive thoughts; or the Ministry of Truth, in charge of doctoring the history books to reflect the Party’s ideology?

Of course, we all laughed complacently at the notion we could ever come under such scrutiny in Britain. 

I remember we discussed the fine line between security and individual freedom, in that earnest way adolescents do, at a mind-numbingly dull sixth form conference with pupils from the boys’ grammar school (the boys were the only reason I went). 

This was at a time when we all thought CCTV, body heat sensors and voice recognition entry systems were the stuff of science fiction.  

I don’t suppose many of us could have predicted such equipment was not limited to government buildings or military bases, but that it would become de rigueur, not just in public spaces such as shopping centres or football grounds, but in all modern "executive" homes. 

(It’s even in secondary schools in the form of finger recognition payment for school lunches, which has to be the canniest way for kids to ignore meat and two veg and fill up on pastries instead, all at their parents’ expense). 

I used to take the view if you’ve nothing to hide, what did it matter who was watching you? That concern for our collective safety overrode anxieties about what was really a rather small invasion of our personal privacy, but after two recent incidents, I’m not so sure.

Only this week, I discovered some companies have software that can identify someone who merely peeks at their website, even if they don’t submit an actual enquiry. 

It seems harmless enough, especially if all you are searching for is a dishwasher during your lunch break at work, but how would you feel if, a day later, you received a phone call from some chirpy telemarketeer asking which model you require and would you consider an upgrade? 

Now I don’t mind some snooper I’m never going to meet knowing which chain store I buy my underwear from, or where I get my washing-powder, but I would rather not share (speaking theoretically of course) how much nit lotion or athlete’s foot powder I order online, any more than I would want my bank balance or medical records plastered all over the internet. The truth is, we all have something to hide.

Even more disturbingly, my husband, who is currently unemployed and has been registering his CV with recruitment agencies, received "an amazing offer" from a recruiter he had never heard of, offering to help him find work.   

It can’t hurt, he thought, until he read the small print. Tucked away in the seemingly endless terms and conditions were several clauses that would shock even Orwell’s Winston Smith.

My husband’s CV would be forwarded to several "carefully selected" employers and other recruitment consultancies (fair enough) - but get this: by giving them his CV, Him Indoors was agreeing to allow his details to be passed on to, among others, debt collection agencies, mailing houses, research organisations and government and enforcement agencies, including Trading Standards and the police. 

Only at the very bottom of the second page did the T & C say my husband could "click here" if he objected to his data being used in this way. 

In other words, there are plenty of pitfalls for the unwary. Those of us who tick the "I have read and understood etc" box without doing either could be signing our life away. 
It’s enough to make you paranoid.

 

Comments (1)

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8:52am Sat 9 Aug 14

Mike Ribble says...

'Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.'
It's a pity you didn't also read Catch 22 but it's never too late.
'Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.' It's a pity you didn't also read Catch 22 but it's never too late. Mike Ribble
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