26 June 2019
Privacy and Security Travis Schultz Law

Perhaps George Orwell was more on the money than we gave him credit for in his book ‘1984’.

At the time, the possibility of a regime where “Big Brother” watched your every move seemed highly unlikely to those of us living relatively carefree lives in countries where civil unrest was only ever on the fringes of society.

As time moved on, we embraced technology with open arms and never once questioned her true intentions. Or if we did, we reasoned that “if it makes life simpler and easier it must be good”.

And the catch cry of those who support some of the more intrusive technology, like facial recognition, can often be heard reasoning with the ‘Doubting Thomas’s, “you have nothing to fear if you are not doing anything wrong”.

Indeed, it is true that devices that mark our location and help us find our destination or can pick a criminal out in a crowd have many advantages – all of which are obvious.

But what happens when the same technology is used by governments to identify and track down dissidents who are engaging in a peaceful protest or build a database on which every citizen is no longer just a number but a name and a face!

And for this reason, we all need to pay careful attention to the events currently unfolding in Hong Kong.

Millions are currently campaigning against a new bill that will potentially see Hong Kong citizens, accused of crimes, tried in mainland China. Many are scared that this move is simply the start of undermining the civil liberties that those who live in Hong Kong currently enjoy.

So concerned about the fact that “Sino Big Brother” is watching and tracking their every move, protestors are covering their faces and turning off the tracking on their mobile phones.

Many are also ditching their ‘Octopus’ cards which allow them to travel on the trains, fearing that they too could give away a person’s location, opting to purchase single one-way tickets instead.

Technology is a great thing – until it isn’t. And the good people of Hong Kong are now realising just how deeply their digital footprint extends.

The leader of one of the encrypted apps the protestors have been using to organise protests, has been tracked down and arrested and it’s made them realise how vulnerable they really are.

When people and governments are in balance, elected democratically and laws are in place for the strict use of our personal information we should, in theory, be free to live safely and go about our business. But information is power and if governments have both facial recognition technology and a database it could be suggested that we may as well be microchipped and scanned like a parolee wearing an ankle tracker!

And when that happens, we are in very real danger of heading down the path of the totalitarianism and repressive regimentation of George Orwell’s ‘1984′.

Perhaps we should have been paying attention to the potential problems on the horizon long ago, instead of focusing on the gratification from what it was giving us. We took the bait of convenience and expediency, willingly – hook, line and sinker. And the situation in Hong Kong has made us realise just what is at stake – but is it a case of too little, too late?