Published On: Tue, Apr 24th, 2012

MAP 21 – a measure for self surveillance

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Students that follow my lectures and visitors of this site often ask me what type of society I see for us in the future and whether that is a good thing. I usually respond to that with explaining that our present modern society holds all the signature elements of a ‘global technocracy’ and that I think this could be a good thing.

The convergence of technology and our behavior, the transparency of our private life’s through social media, the blurring of what is real and fantasy, smart meters, the progress of neuro science and nano-technology to either enhance or restore human functions and capabilities, the advancement of food production technology, and much more could all on their own account greatly benefit human society and the planet we all share. And these are all elements, even the apparent sexualization of our society, needed to implement a technocracy. As our society becomes more complex by the day could we could benefit of such system. But as with all things it will come down to who operates and manages such society.

Smart meters are great and could help to reduce our energy consumption and allow for a fairer pricing. You only take what you need, and when you need more, you’ll pay more. Sounds great and it is, but the big question is; Who owns the data, and who operates the kill-switch? Cause if a smart meter (or smart grid) mean the energy companies will own your data and will be able to determine what utilities you’ll be using when, where and why, then it is not a good thing. Then our technocracy quickly becomes a dystopian society. One that is worse than George Orwell could imagine.

Same goes with data collection. We humans produce a tremendous amount of (digital) data each day, so it’s a great thing that we develop technology that is capable of filtering, storing, and analyzing all this data so we can easily benefit from it. But when this data is controlled and owned by organisations that operate without hardly any oversight than this same beneficial data collection becomes very, very dangerous. And it doesn’t matter whether the intention for collecting the data, or implementing advanced technology, all started with the best of intends. Once it gets corrupted by someone or something it will be used against us and it will be irreversible.

One such implementation that could easily turn against us is hidden in a bill that has recently passed the U.S. Senate. The SB 1813, or Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP 21), would make it mandatory for all new cars in the United States to include black box data recorders from the year 2015, and would (among many other provisions) permit the IRS to confiscate one’s passport on the suspicion of owing taxes. The bill is now scheduled for a vote in the House.

Section 31406 of the measure calls for “mandatory event data recorders” to be installed in new vehicles not later than 180 days after the bill’s enactment, and mandates penalties on individuals who fail to comply.

There has been a push to install black box devices for over a decade. And there’s no reason not to. The technology is available and a black box could help determine what happened in case of an accident or improve the driver’s safety. But again the big question is: Who owns the data, what data is stored and send to what organisation, and who has access to the data.

While the bill also indicates that the data would remain the property of the vehicle’s owner, the government does have the power to gain access to the black box under a variety of circumstances, including by court order, if the owner consents to make it available.

But there’s no rational or scientific need nor justification to equip tens of millions of vehicles on a perpetual basis with black boxes.

While denials abound there is good reason to believe that the promotion of universal black box installation in new vehicles has more to do with regulatory, enforcement, judicial, and corporate economic interests; all at the expense of vehicle owners who are forced to pay for and retain this form of self-surveillance.

There’s also no reason to object to safety research that involves the use of black boxes, as long as the participants are informed and willing and they are allowed to opt out of research project without negative consequences.

With this in mind the data box suddenly is part of the slippery slope to total surveillance of the transportation habits and whereabouts of Americans. And that would be a very bad thing. Irreversible bad that is. But a signature element of a technocracy nevertheless.

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About the Author

- As a creative strategist I work on complex (digital) communications issues for international industry leading companies, organizations and agencies. I'm interested in how technology integrates with (and influences) traditional marketing, media, human behavior, society and culture.

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