Tim Colgan


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No more secrets

What will the future be like when there are no more secrets?

Wikileaks, cameras on every corner, credit card and bank transaction tracking, phone records, surveillance drones ... You can be tracked! And it's getting worse.

But is that a bad thing?

We used to fear that Big Brother would be watching us. But now we can watch Big Brother. What will the future bring when we can see where government money goes? When the movement of every army, every gang, every killer can be followed?

How much are you willing to give up in terms of privacy in order to prevent crime? How will we all act differently when our every public move can be watched and pulled up for replay?

Tell us how the future with no more secrets appears to you.

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    Apr 7 2011: Privacy or Anonymity?

    There will always be secrets. Human beings are perfect at putting on a face.

    This is the most pressing issue facing us tomorrow and most people brush it aside without thought!

    Crime prevention is absolutely not worth surrendering our privacy.

    Sticking cameras everywhere is a quick-fix pacifier for fearful people.

    In NZ, there has, this past week, been a revamp of our 'spy agency' powers with regards to digital surveillance. It was all done behind closed doors with no public forum whatsoever. Very unsettling.

    Any action taken in the name of 'safety' needs to examined for what it is - a knee-jerk reaction to fear..
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      Apr 7 2011: Scott: You highlight the issues that need to be discussed. Do we accept the apparently inevitable increasing loss of anonymity brought on by the trend of technology and take advantage of the benefits. Or do we resist and try to maintain the privacy that we have become accustomed to?

      Let me throw out a couple of items.

      Cell phones with cameras are everywhere. Almost any time a cop starts beating up on someone he will be video'd. Is this bad?

      In early tribal communities everyone knew everyone. You couldn't constantly fool people. They caught on to you. This produced a certain ethic of give and take. Once urbanization occurred and people became anonymous, crimes of deceit became rampant. Hence the development of laws, religion, etc. Might humans not become more "ethical", in the sense of being held accountable for their actions when their actions are public knowledge?
      • Apr 7 2011: Tim, I think there is a bit of a conundrum in separating the use of technology for honorable purposes such as you describe and the abuse of technology for dishonorable purposes such as human trafficking on what appears to be a very extensive scale. The technology exposes and reveals on the one hand but conceals and corrupts on the other. Is it a case where good and evil must necessarily co-exist, in other words, we take the good with the unthinkably bad?
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          Apr 7 2011: Julie Ann: Personally I think greater and greater transparency will yield changes (primarily benefits) that we can't even imagine.

          Think wiki-leaks and the revolt in Egypt. Sure the truth might be embarrassing at times, but I think the end product will be positive.

          But maybe I'm wrong. There are two TED talks that relate to the conundrum. One, Evgeny Morozov: How the Net aids dictatorships, discusses the negative side. Steven Pinker's talk - "the myth of violence", points out how we perceive the current world as violent, yet, statistically humans have less chance today of violent death then ever before. The press gives contrary perceptions.

          What do you think?
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          Apr 10 2011: I agree Tim, that greater transparency will yield benefits that we may not imagine at this point, and the end product may be positive. With the technology we have today, we're already starting to see the uncovering of corruption in politics, religions and business. We are beginning to see people unite for causes they believe in. It is more difficult to hide corruption when we have the kind of communications that are evolving. Ultimately, I imagine that it will cause everyone to think more carefully about their actions.

          As I said to you in a previous comment, my mother asked the question when I was a child: How would it be if everyone in the world knew what you were doing? How would it be if everyone had that question planted in the sub-conscious? I imagine we might see more accountability, responsibility and actions which are more beneficial to humanity.
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          Apr 10 2011: That would be the BEST Birdia, and it is what I am anticipating:>)
      • Apr 7 2011: Hi Birdia, Thank you for your comment. I am not suggesting anything of the sort. May I suggest that you carefully re-read the post.
      • Apr 8 2011: Tim, I wholeheartedly agree that transparency in government is desirable and should lead to greater accountability. I also fully recognize that with every innovation, there are good and evil applications - nuclear energy for example. The flip side is intrusion in individual privacy. Here are two examples. In Canada, there is now an active election campaign. A student who registered to attend one of the election rallies of the current Prime Minister, was denied entrance. When asked why, she found out that the rally organizers had checked her Facebook page and found a picture of her with the leader of one of the opposing parties. After much public furor, she was offered an apology. In my view and that of many others, this was inappropriate use of her Facebook page, by the government. In the Wikileaks case, a court ruled that Twitter must hand over all details and tweets of persons associated with Wikileaks, including that of an Icelandic Member of Parliament. I also see this as an intrusion. On a broad scale, I think this is what is happening. Let us use a scale, balanced on a fulcrum as an analogy. On one side are traditionally oppressive regimes and on the other are non-oppressive regimes. The balance is slowly shifting so that the oppressive regimes are slowly (very slowly) relaxing their grip on the populace while on the opposite side, there is a gradual tightening. I am not sure where the new center of gravity will settle but it will certainly be interesting to watch. Thanks for the conversation :-)
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          Apr 12 2011: Hi Julie Ann,
          You bring up some good concerns about different applications for the use of information. Perhaps the transparency will eventually cause more of a balance for everyone? There definitely can be inappropriate use of information, as you have mentioned, with the student who was denied entrance because of a picture of her with the leader of the opposing party on FB. That is inappropriate, as you pointed out, and it is good that she got an apology.

          On the other side, perhaps it will cause people to be more careful about what they post on their personal social network pages? There are many stories about people who were denied employment because the interviewing employer, reviewed their FB page and found compromising photos (nude, drunk, etc.) If someone wants the world to see them in that state, that's ok, and they might want to start thinking about the long term ramifications of portraying themselves in certain states, on a global web page. While people are sometimes angry for being denied a job for that reason, it certainly projects to the world something about our personalities and character. I'm not saying it's right or wrong...it is what it is, and hopefully, we will find a beneficial balance:>)

          On the other side, years ago I reported an environmentally toxic business operating on adjoining land to my home. After much legal action and death threats to me, the business was ordered by environmental court, to cease all operations and vacate the site. However, they did not quite do as ordered. While speaking to the environmental lawyer in the attorney general's office on the phone, he asked "what are they doing right now"? I took digital photos, which I e-mailed to him, and he took action immediately. In the "old days" there would have been photos mailed to his office with letters, an investigation, reports, etc. etc. Todays technology allows us to deal with these situations in a timely manner, and offenders are starting to realize that.
      • Apr 9 2011: Hi Birdia. As far as I know they have not been physically harmed but in my view, this does not make it just. I would be terrified to live in a society where the only criterion for injustice was physical harm and non-physical abuse such as theft, libel/slander, verbal threats and bullying, stalking and so on were acceptable.
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    Apr 7 2011: It's ok with me, but everybody else better watch out! Sometime in my youth, my mother asked the question: What if everyone in the world knew exactly what you were doing? I think she was planting the seed to get me to be aware of, and evaluate my behaviors:>) Of course, at that time, it was not possible to have that information. Now it is! That question has been floating around in my subconscious, and I think it's a good thing:>) I'm "trained" to deal with constant surveillance because I've been doing it to myself for 65 years. LOL!
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      Apr 7 2011: Hi Colleen. Although at first it may seem like transparency is restrictive, I think it can also be seen as personally liberating.

      Always liked the Mark Twain adage "when in doubt tell the truth". Of course, we're usually in doubt so a habit of truth-telling makes sense. Think it applies?
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        Apr 7 2011: Hi Tim,
        I absolutely agree that it is liberating, and yes, I agree that it applies! For one thing, it's easier to keep track of truth-telling. When we start to tell lies, it's difficult to cover up the lies. Transparency is so much easier and gentle on consciousness. It takes a lot of energy to fabricate stories to cover up the last stores, if we are not honest with ourselves and others. I've got better ways to spend my time and energy. Can you imagine how our world would be if there were no more secrets?
        Good topic Tim...thanks for starting this thread:>)
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    Apr 7 2011: http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/2011/02/14/rsa-animate-language-window-human-nature/

    Not a TED talk, but this one provides a nice insight in the discussion...
  • P C

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    Apr 7 2011: Nature abhors a vacuum. There are already technologies with the ability to identify cameras and weapons that blind them. Governments may use them to suppress sousveillance. Criminals may use them to suppress surveillance. Eventually what is left will be a balance between the two where the people still only see what others intend to reveal.
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      Apr 7 2011: Philip: Do you think they will be successful at shutting down wiki-leaks (and similar organizations)?

      I really question the governments ability to limit the flow of information. How do you prevent people with cell phones from taking videos of what they come across?
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    Apr 7 2011: A very interesting topic,
    Us all being the little brothers/sisters watching each other...

    * I am a partisan for open data and transparency, honesty and an open attitude...
    So, I should be all supportive (And if asked: I am, because there is too much opposition against it know, and I want to see it move faster)
    * From a game-theoretical perspective, this would lead to more positive sum games (as it will hugely benefit those who act pro-social, and would be a discouragement for anti-social behaviour)
    * It could break a lot of taboos and create more open-mindedness

    From the human, psychological side, I don't know whether we could bear/cope with it...
    (I'm using the philosophical I here, so don't go thinking... well, you may think I'm opening up, but it might be false)
    - Maybe I don't want everybody to see me for what I am, as I would feel ashamed...
    - There wouldn't be a Santa anymore?
    - There are some things I don't want to know and/or see,
    - Smarter people will benefit more from this information
    - I might get paranoid! [I think this is a risk that needs consideration]
    - A majority around me might disapprove my odd behavior I only dare to perform in my private quarters...

    So, in general: seems like a good idea, and I would say: more openness!
    And the people who are against it, will probably slow down the pace of this progress, so we would have the time to cope with possible averse effects.
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      Apr 7 2011: Welcome Christophe. You enumerate lots of the key points, all worthy of discussion.

      Let's focus on one that I find most intriguing - how will it change us as individuals?

      I used the analogy below of the tribal community where everyone knows us. People are adaptable to different social environments. But it will surely have an effect. You pointed out that it might turn us paranoid. Might it also make us more accountable? Kinder?

      An additional side effect. Everyone will be in the same boat. Will we become more accepting of people the way they are? Maybe there will be less need for repression?
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    Apr 6 2011: A world without secrets = Perfect and ever expanding
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      Apr 7 2011: Nicholas: Tell us how you think this increasing transparency will effect us both as individuals and as a society
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    Apr 6 2011: imagine. what if in a not so distant future, all information is easily accessible. what you bought in the supermarket last wednesday, who you met, where you commented what. will it be a frightening world? sure, as we know today, as people showing masks to the public. will you vote for a candidate who vomited over a public statue totally drunk? will you trust a former drug dealer as your insurance agent? in this new world, we will have to accept such things. hypocrisy is not good. get over it!

    ps: grammatic errors due to amount of alcohol. would you believe anything a drunk says? up to you!
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      Apr 7 2011: Hi Krisztian, Tim et al,
      We are not so far away from the society you described are we? Every click we enter on the internet is recorded by advertisers so that they can market to us. There are cameras on public buildings and intersections in many places. Stores have surveillance. If we use a toll road or cross a border it is all recorded. We have credit card tracks for every purchase and every hotel we stay in. We are often observed and recorded. I am not too worried about it. Tim's scenario says we will have privacy in our homes but that does not extend to our computers.I remember a criminal case awhile ago where they had the list of the type of movies that the criminal had rented before his crime and used that as evidence of his attempts to outsmart the police. When I told my son who is a diplomat that I wanted to quit my job and teach overseas - he was not the least bit worried because he says that I do not have any of the behaviours that would get me into trouble. My life is an open book. God- its almost a shame to be that boring and predictable!
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        Apr 7 2011: Debra... exactly..
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        Apr 7 2011: Debra: Yes, you make an important point - the time is already upon us. My main questions are:
        1) How will it change us as individuals when we are held to a higher level of accountability?
        2) How will it change us as a society when those with power are under greater scrutiny?
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          Apr 7 2011: Hello Tim,This may seem a bit off topic but there is a phenomenon in psychological studies where people have been recorded for long periods of time and they seem to go back to their natural behaviours. (Remember those nasty reality shows and people's behaviours when you wondered 'how could they present themselves that way?')If people really knew that they were constantly observed they would be less likely to perform criminal or antisocial acts unless they were, as in cilvil disobedience, utterly willing to pay the price. I am not sure that our public figures could be under greater scrutiny except where they should always have been thoroughly scrutinized and that is in their public life. I don't know about your homeland but haven't we all had enough of the buffoonery in our Houses of Parliament? God- you'd hate to have a group of school children watch it- it would demonstrate such a lack of logic, manners and civility that it would curl their hair. I do not care about a politician's downtime unless s/he is doing something criminal. Their sex lives are meaningless to me. I do, however, think that it is time that they were held to a very high standard in their public duties. When that happens- we will all be better off.
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        Apr 7 2011: debra: it is frightening if you have anything to fear of. but what if it is not the case? what if there is no evil power, only freely operating "agents" (men, companies, etc) all around?

        example: this data can be used to calculate that a politician is secretly gay. it can greatly affect his success on the next elections. so having such data is power. but what if being gay would not be a problem at all? not to mention there should be no politicians :)
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          Apr 7 2011: Hi Krisztian, In my post I was stating that I have nothing to fear. I do have to ask 'since when did freely operating agents like men and companies become squeaky clean and above reproach?'. A lot of people have agendas. In a free system where it is every man for himself -without regulation or oversite- the data can be put to some very terrible uses.
          You were the one in another post who said that we have to be personally vigilant to all forms of manipulation and trickery.
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        Apr 7 2011: by "you", i meant general subject or how to call it.
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      Apr 7 2011: Hypocrisy is a natural state for all humans. It's a defense mechanism against the nature of life.
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          Apr 7 2011: I say this because of the way we perceive existence and the way we conduct ourselves privately vs publicly.

          Every now and then, we need the ability to accept two opposing concepts at the same time.

          I believe this and I don't..
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          Apr 7 2011: hypocrisy is a lie. why we lie? a hungarian psychologist said the following: we lie because other people want to rule us. lie is a defense.

          so maybe hypocrisy is natural, if we are oppressed. the real problem is the oppressing nature of our society.

          how about that?
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          Apr 7 2011: Birdia: You always make interesting observations on the differences between eastern and western belief systems. Your contrasting the whole divine judgement concept is a case in point.

          A question for you: In traditional Chinese belief systems did people act, in private, as if someone were watching (the ancestors perhaps?). Or is this type of thought totally foreign?
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          Apr 7 2011: Thanks Birdia. It's always most enlightening to become aware of how things are in other cultures. I think we learn most about ourselves by studying how people behave in different contexts.

          My curiosity on this topic comes from a belief I have. I think that religions which incorporated a concept of a supernatural which punishes humans after death evolved in response to urbanization. When we left the tribe/village where everyone knew us and entered the anonymous city, a new means of social control needed to be developed. Hence heaven/hell.

          Your point about social ostracism being a means of encouraging responsibility is well taken. But I wonder - how did Chinese culture deal with the anonymity of urban life?
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          Apr 7 2011: I guess I was expecting some parallel to cosmic punishment similar to the Abrahamic traditions in Chinese culture. But perhaps there is none. Maybe the heaven/hell concept (and the Hindu karma) are not universal. That subject in itself is a fascinating topic.
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        Apr 7 2011: I hope that is not actually true, Scott! It is true that when children are little their entire set of feelings is written on their face. As time goes on and they begin to mature those emotions are still there but we learn to mask them so effectively that they can only be seen when video tape is slowed down to single frames. Something must cause the need to hide our emotions so dramatically so that others do not see. Is it ridicule or is communicating our inner feelings a 'weakness' that makes us too vulnerable to those who would exploit us?A lot of people live lives where they hardly know themselves- their masks are so tight.
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      Apr 7 2011: Hey Krisztian:

      Hope you made it through the night without puking on a statue.

      So I think we are in agreement that transparency is a good thing. What limits, if any, do you think should be imposed?
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        Apr 7 2011: well, i'm in a lucky position, as my world view makes it very easy to answer any legal questions. there is only one rule, and an important corollary to it. the one rule is that you can not violate property rights. that is, you can't sneak into anyone's house, or steal his wallet to get information. the corollary is you have to respect any contracts you made. if i give you information, but i also tell you not to reveal it to a third party, you are fully responsible for any harm done by revealing it.

        all other cases are non-violent, hence legal.

        ps: no statues were harmed in the making of this comment
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          Apr 7 2011: Who would enforce this contract?
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        Apr 7 2011: debra, we don't know. i mean, pick any kind of service that probably will exist in fifty years, but does not exist today. and then ask yourself who will provide it, and in what construct? we can say, the market will. some company will. but how? impossible to foresee.

        but we know if there is demand, the free market finds a solution.

        but to be a little more constructive, i tell one possible solution that some people speculate about. insurance. everyone will have good-behavior insurance. before i engage in any contractual relation with someone, i will check if the guy has behavior insurance. if i trust the insurance company, we can go ahead. if he violates the contract, i collect a big sum from the company. his monthly fee goes up, and eventually he will lose the insurance, and will be an outcast.
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          Apr 8 2011: You have definately impressed me with this response. I can actually see, for the first time that something like that might work!
          Thanks for having the patience and taking the time to explain it to me.
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      Apr 6 2011: I think we can assume that we'll maintain privacy within our homes.

      Maybe you're not familiar with the Rodney King case. In 1991 he was beat up by Los Angeles cops. It was caught on camera. Riots broke out as a result and the police were forced to charge the offenders (something that wouldn't have normally happened).

      This kind of typifies for me the turning of the cameras on Big Brother.

      How do we act differently when we are being observed?
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      Apr 7 2011: Birdia: In response to your question "who will be monitoring behind the screens?".

      What if all cameras in public places are recorded and the recording is accessible by anyone via the internet? Good or bad?