LIVING IN THE SURVEILLANCE STATE ERA
PCQuest|November 2020
We left our anonymity behind in the 20th century. The 21st century has become the Century of Surveillance and 20 years into it, governments have picked up all the tools of the trade to spy on their citizens effectively. They are joined by big corporations, Big Tech in particular, along with various spying agencies, hackers and other bad state actors
Sunil Rajguru

At the turn of the century, when it came to technology, the whole world was consumed with the Y2K crisis or the Millennium Bug. Y2K stands for Year 2000 and it was felt that since computers only used the last two digits for the year, they wouldn’t be able to distinguish between 2000 and 1900, which would lead to grave errors. There could be pandemonium at the turn of the century. There were scares that computers would go bust, planes would go down, stock markets would crash etc. Some cults even predicted the end of the world. But we solved that problem without much fuss and India entered the path to becoming an It services superpower, getting a good chunk of the Y2K outsourcing market.

What really changed the world came a year later. The exact date being September 11, 2001, when the twin towers of the World trade Center in New York came down. 9/11 may have been a great geopolitical event, but it also led to the Patriot Act, which turned America into a surveillance state. The National security Agency (NSA) became all-powerful and it was just a matter of time before other countries and agencies followed suit.

The second factor was the rise of China as an It superpower and their use of tech to monitor citizens and streamline their activities effectively. Being a Communist country with no checks and balances, it was tech on steroids when compared to America. A credit score system was introduced. Facial recognition ensured that nobody could escape its reach. Artificial Intelligence became all-powerful. AI courts are gaining ground in China.

Stories of a surveillance state dystopia abound in literature and films, the first famous one being George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four. If 9/11 set the trend and China provided the tools, then what was left was the opportunity for the world to do so. That came with the Covid-19 crisis. A widespread alarmist global pandemic in the age of surveillance tech meant that governments could monitor the health and movements of all their citizens without protest. Social distancing means that all the no touch technologies can be pushed to the limit and there so many of them.

A look at the complexities of the global surveillance state that we all live in...

Public/digital data growing enormously—so is the cloud: Once most data was not recorded and what was recorded was in the form of paper which was not very accessible to everyone and required a great deal of red tape. Even with the advent of the computer, data was localized and hid behind a bureaucratic machine rather than a bureaucratic folder.

Then came the cloud, where an unlimited amount of data could be saved and in multiple places. You no longer needed messy triplicates which had to be stored in faraway godowns. The data that you collected could be increased manifold. It could be recorded directly digitally instead of being converted from paper and it could be accessed by anyone by any device from any part of the world provided you had the right access. Today there are millions of data centres in the world and billions of access devices.

For the first time in history tonnes of data related to all 7 billion odd global citizens is out there. Nobody is anonymous. Anybody can become famous at the click of a button. Anyone can be studied in detail anonymously with the person being studied not knowing about it or even knowing how much data related to him or her was out there in the cloud.

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