Yesterday's fantasy is tomorrow's reality

By Lisa S. Dean
web posted November 27, 2000

With all the discussion about the recounts, lawsuits and "chads" with regard to this circus we are charitably calling a presidential election, every American with a pulse should now be an expert in Florida election law.

Every day we endure every gory detail (pardon the pun) - the recounts, the lawsuits, the appeals, the result, then more recounts, more lawsuits, more appeals, more results. Well, in the words of Monty Python, "And now for something completely different". Back in the 1950s author C. S. Lewis predicted that years from now the government will grow to such an enormous size and wield such tremendous power that no one will be able to say to officials within it "it's none of your business, because everything will be its business." Including where you are going, at what time, what was your purpose for travelling and who were you with?

Everyone of course thought Lewis was referring to the rulers of Narnia but in fact, he was referring to real leaders in real life. As we're finding out more and more each day, Lewis' words couldn't have been more prophetic, especially when it comes to the study and practice of government surveillance.

Two stories reported recently in the press address the very concern a growing number of Americans have regarding the privacy of their actions.

The Washington Times reported last month that 48,000 people driving on Interstate 95 in Maryland received a letter shortly thereafter from the Maryland Mass Transit Administration which read as follows: "Your vehicle was seen traveling on southbound I-95 near I-195 on Wednesday, Sept. 27. Please provide the following information: Where were you going? Who was with you? What was the purpose of your trip?"

The 48,000 drivers who received the letter were not accused of any crime. The state was merely asking the questions for "information purposes" taking advantage of the new surveillance technology along the Maryland highways to conduct traffic surveys.

Traffic cameras have been set up along our nation's highways over the past few years and there has been no outcry from the public because no one wanted to be labeled "paranoid" to think that these cameras would be monitoring them and besides, if you don't break any traffic laws, what do you have to worry about?

Well, now the answer to that question is becoming very clear. Unfortunately, right now, the State of Maryland has no laws prohibiting its agencies from spying on motorists and inquiring about their activities and whereabouts. Fortunately though, there is no law requiring citizens to respond to those inquiries and intrusive questions but if there is no outcry at this stage and no legislation enacted to prohibit such invasive government monitoring, the day will come when it we will be required to respond to letters from government officials or, God forbid, knocks at the front door, asking where we have been and what we have been doing.

But with the continued development of implant technology, even those questions might not need to be asked because the answers will already be known.

Applied Digital Solutions has patented a new product called "Digital Angel" that was released last month and is being marketed to companies, e-commerce businesses, law enforcement and even parents.

Digital Angel is the latest in chip implant technology that, when implanted under a person's skin, will transmit all vital statistics of the individual from satellite to a ground station manned by officials who can monitor the whereabouts of each person who has the chip.

Just think, parents can feel more at ease knowing that if their child is kidnapped, law enforcement officials can find him just by tracking his whereabouts via satellite. And parole officers can stop worrying about parolees fleeing the country knowing that Digital Angel will watch over them. When purchasing products online, you will no longer need to fumble around looking for a credit card. You can just scan your Digital Angel chip and the transaction will be completed.

On its face that may sound like a good deal, but would we actually be benefiting by it? Remember, if you give the government the power to monitor your activities and whereabouts, you give it the power to restrict them as well. Instead of viewing ourselves as children of God who gave us bodies to treat with respect and as temples of the Holy Spirit, we would allow ourselves, in fact, volunteer ourselves to be put on, what amounts to electronic leashes, controlled by the government. That's no deal.

The movie "Enemy of the State" gave us a taste of what life would be like with systems such as Digital Angel. Even episodes of "The X-Files" has portrayed it as well.

While it seems ridiculous to use fantasy to illustrate reality, the way it appears, yesterday's fantasy is tomorrow's reality. Today if people continue to believe the lie that we need to give up more privacy in exchange for more security, then as all lies go, we will find that in the end, we will have neither.

Lisa Dean is Vice President for Technology Policy at the Free Congress Foundation.

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