COVER STORY: NOW YOU SEE US, THE CLOUDS HAVE GONE
It used to be the case that if the authorities deemed you a ‘person of interest’ (a little insulting as I always thought I was interesting) and, therefore, someone they felt they should track, they had to employ the services of a couple of doughnut-eating agents in fawn trench coats (one of whom would, invariably, be killed in the second act) to sit outside your house in their Ford Prefect until such time as they had gathered enough information via the bug they’d planted in your geraniums to nail you to the wall, or at least stand you up against it.
Later, as technology progressed, phone tapping augmented the surveillance, allowing the Men in Fawn to dispense with the bind of actually having to see you to know what you were up to. They could still follow your movements, but now they could also monitor your pizza consumption and how many times you called your mother.
Later still, or to put it another way, more recently, we entered the exciting age of the Information Super Highway, or judging by the speed of my broadband, the Information B186 to Chaffing Hundred*, and almost overnight, our overcoated pastry fiends could be consigned to the Museum of Law Enforcement Cliché to be replaced by eight-stone nerds wearing white nylon shirts and black, thick-rimmed glasses and who played text-based adventure games for kicks. These characters could determine, not only your adherence to familial responsibilities, but, over a period of time, your favourite pubs, films, music, supermarkets, food, friends and, the reason they were watching you in the first place, your regular contacts. All done remotely by plodding their way along your internet trail.
However, therein lay our ‘stay under the radar for a bit longer’ card. One flick of the switch and your BBC Acorn crackles into blackness. No computer usage, no electronic trail and it was back to the museum to wheel out the doughnut boys.
Now, we arrive at the present and, ironically, the future has arrived with it, accompanied, you’ll be pleased to hear, by the point. It’s 2013 and ‘smart’ phones, tablets, laptops, games devices, e-readers and ever more powerful desktop PCs abound. Our social media activity is at such a Babelesque level that we don’t have to interact with anyone on a face-to-face basis any more. With just the spasmodic twitch of an index finger, we can tell and show anyone and everyone who and what we like and don’t like, where we prefer to go on holiday and where we’d rather not, what we had for breakfast and what we’re going to have for tea, who we’re going to meet and where and, most importantly of all, our exact position on the planet when we do all of these things.
Thanks to satellites and GPS tracking systems of one form or another, no matter which device we use to update our status, our precise location can be relayed to anyone prepared to sift through our ramblings.
Now, our be-nyloned geek can sit back on his Parker Knoll black leather recliner in his air-conditioned, converted warehouse and simply read our Facebook page or Twitter feed to find out everything he needs to know. Our whole life, down to the most minute detail, is laid out for the whole world to see and, because we can never be sure if the people we’ve added as friends are authentic, we could have even invited the Men in Nylon to join our innermost circle.
Today, there is no escape from the all-seeing eye above the clouds, no avenue of evasion open to us. If proof of this were needed, we reproduce here satellite images of your Editors, captured one balmy, autumn afternoon as we went about our business, or more accurately, to the pub. It serves to highlight that, although we may think we have avoided detection all of these years, there are figures in the shadows who know what we’re doing and exactly where we are.
Our expectation of privacy is all but non-existent. Every piece of our electronically-held information is available to those willing to pay for it and those who would spy on us have only to lift a finger to have our lives laid bare before them.
* Eds: In case you were wondering, yes, there is a B186 and it does go to Chaffing Hundred. In answer to your next question, it’s near Grays in Essex.