Saturday, November 15, 2003

Nanosurveillance - The Emerging Age Of Little Brother And The Nano-Panopticon?

Never failing to blow my mind, The Ecologist has an intriguing article up about the coming age of "Little Brother". I've posted on nanotechnology here previously, but this one tops nano armor and WMD in a big way.
Invisible control is power. The founding editor of Wired magazine once suggested that the more significant a technology is, the less able we are to recognise it as a technology at all. Technologies such as writing and clocks long ago ceased to be noticed as technologies yet continued to be used by those in power to extend control. Today nanotechnology, and microscale technology, already operating in the realm of the near invisible, offer a new platform to do the same. We may be some way away from the molecular surveillance cameras that thicken the air of sci-fi dystopias, but as the fledgling nanotech industry emerges alongside the 'war on terrorism’, a trajectory towards a nano surveillance society is coming worryingly into focus.

One leading nano-commentator, Michael Mehta, Professor of Sociology at Saskatchewan University in Canada, has given it a name: the nano-panopticon – describing the emergence of a future without privacy in which every aspect of society will be tracked, measured and visible from the bottom up. Mehta points to the emergence of nano-enabled devices such as 'lab on a chip' technology which can gives insurers and employers fast and cheap access to genetic data - – and are likely to increase genetic discrimination. Alongside this are being developed a host of miniature sensors and tracking mechanisms that could strengthen state and corporate power and undermine workers.

Like I've been saying all along, a separation of powers, and balance of powers, is essential to the American way of life and government. "The people" need to be added into this equation, along with corporations, and the best way this should be done is by total and open transparency and accountability. The freedom of information.

I'll repeat. If there is going to be a surveillance state, or what I sometimes lovingly call the Diaper State (because of a desperate longing for security in a dangerous and chaotic world), then the surveillance needs to go both ways. The information needs to flow both ways. From the citizens and to the citizens. If we do not assure this, we will surely slide into tyranny and/or totalitarianism. At some point. I don't see how we couldn't, judging by the devastating power of our military, the need for security in the face of terrorism, and a failure of the doctrine of federalism and the separation and balance of powers.