IT suppliers at risk of backlash as public reject surveillance state

IT suppliers that collaborate with the government on the increasing surveillance of law-abiding citizens face a public backlash, and may be at risk of acts of violence, including the smashing of computer centres.

IT suppliers that collaborate with the government on the increasing surveillance of law-abiding citizens face a public backlash, and may be at risk of acts of violence, including the smashing of computer centres.

The warning was issued to hundreds of IT, security and finance executives at a conference on board the cruise ship Aurora recently.

In a keynote speech to delegates at the City IT and IT Security Forum, Ian Pearson, a former BT "futurologist" and a chartered fellow of the British Computer Society, spoke of a backlash against the government's preoccupation with surveillance technologies.

Within five years Pearson predicted that the government's crackdown on law-abiding people could lead to marches in the street, demonstrations outside some computer centres and - if the government takes no action - targeted acts of violence.

He told the invited audience of some of the UK's largest IT suppliers and users, "By 2012 to 2013 tops you will see a technology backlash in the major population. Why is it relevant to you? Because if your firm is providing services to government authorities, which help the government to crack down on law-abiding people, you are in the firing line. Be very careful you are on the right side of the line when the [backlash occurs]. You need to be very careful indeed."

He added, "Be careful how you market new products Make sure people do not understand the link between you and the government which is trying to crack down on their everyday lives. That will make you on the wrong side of the firing line."

He referred to the surveillance state as the "Stepford Society" and said that the ever-increasing use of technologies to oppress people could become an electoral issue. The party which credibly promises a reduction in surveillance technologies could generate support to win a general election.

He said that law-abiding people are being "put in a digital prison by overt surveillance by the government" while criminals roam free.

"We are heading rapidly towards a society where the government is increasing surveillance under the guise of cracking down on crime, but they are actually cracking down on law-abiding people to make sure they are not just quite law-abiding but absolutely law-abiding.

"You close your wheelie bin lid every single week to make sure it is absolutely closed. And you only put it out at five past eight in the evening so you do not catch a fine for putting it out at five to eight.

"The criminals are walking around free, using high-technology to evade [government] systems and then they get caught and are let off with a caution."

He told the conference, "I think surveillance technology is great if you can pick out the criminals and terrorists. That is not actually what governments are using it for. It is too difficult because terrorists do not fill in the right forms. Neither do criminals. They put in false IDs. They do not talk to the police very nicely. You and I do. We have all registered our cars with the DVLA so when you drive at 75mph though one of these new speed traps with all the cameras linked together you will get a £60 fine and three points on your licence.

"The criminal who stole your car and is driving at 120 will not get a fine because it is your car, and he nicked it, and he can drive at whatever speed he likes. And if it is his own car he will have number-plates using LCD technology, so his number-plates will change every time he goes through a speed check. He does not get a fine, because he does not care about the law.

"The Stepford Society is a realisation that you cannot lock in the law-abiding majority of the population forever The rejection of overt surveillance by the population eventually reaches a critical point, and will bubble over into some sort of revolution, demonstrations in the streets, and smashing government computer centres.

"The government will want to use all these new technologies to force compliance - of course they do - but some people will realise that others are getting away with it We all read periodically that someone in government has left a memory stick or a PC on a train. That can happen only so many times before I get really annoyed that it is my records that have gone missing and I may suffer the consequences an identity theft You cannot keep increasing surveillance ad infinitum without the population objecting. Eventually it will become an electoral issue where the party that says it will reduce surveillance will get elected."

Examples of The Stepford Society

  • Road tolls via satellite-tracking
  • Speed cameras
  • DNA databases
  • Identity Cards
  • 25% of the world's CCTVs
  • Face recognition systems
  • Tax enforcement via integrated databases
  • Speed limits built in car management system
  • Government knows everywhere you go
  • Extensive and permanent police records
  • One stop shop for all government data
  • Monitoring of e-cash
  • Number-plate recognition
  • Abuse of millimetre wave cameras (which measure waves naturally emitted by the human body, exposing "cold" objects under clothing)
  • Extensive monitoring of all electronic activity

Read more of Ian Pearson's comments on the IT Projects blog >>

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