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You are Being Watched

Giugno 2008
Siamo tutti sorvegliati speciali: non solo dalle telecamere a circuito chiuso disposte nelle città, ma anche tramite bancomat, cellulari, tessere dei supermercati, acquisti online. E chiamarsi fuori è praticamente impossibile, salvo vivere da eremiti...

di William Sutton

File audio:

Speakers: Mark Worden, Justin Ratcliffe  (Standard British accent):

What’s the problem?    
We are sleepwalking into a surveillance society,” warns the UK Information Office. Protesters say government, business and criminals can access cameras, cards, phones and databases. In 2007 digital storage of personal information on PCs, websites, cameras, company files and medical records reached 281 billion gigabytes: enough to fill 1.5 billion iPods. You can tag your pet, child or partner to check where they go.
“The more personal information collected,” says David Smith of the Information Office, “the greater the risk it will be wrong, or end up in the wrong hands.” Last October, the UK government lost two disks containing 25 million citizens’ bank details. Prime minister Gordon Brown apologised.

How are we watched and why?
The UK has 4.2 million surveillance cameras, one for every 15 people. Brits are filmed 300 times a day, making them the most watched country in the world. Middlesbrough council’s cameras reduced crime with loudspeakers announcing: “Your behaviour is being recorded. The police are attending.” A man robbing a camera shop was filmed 22 times – and quickly arrested.
US Senator Joe Lieberman was so impressed by the UK’s response to terrorist threats, he suggested more cameras in America. But cameras do not prevent attacks; it’s not proven they reduce crime. In Lubbock, Texas, they caused corruption, when red lights were manipulated to fine motorists.

Why does it matter?

To those from repressive regimes – wartime Europe, the Communist bloc, states like Burma, Pakistan and Kenya – young westerners’ attitudes seem reckless: freely posting information on Facebook and MySpace, using loyalty cards and buying online. Our desire to make digital archives makes misinformation and fraud easy.
“We should be worried about the information the British state holds on its citizens, far more than the Stasi (East German police),” says the columnist Timothy Garton-Ash. “The UK is not a dictatorship. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Would you want your employer to see you drunk on YouTube? What if false rumours about you circulated? What if you were wrongly identified with a terrorist group?

What about genetic fingerprints?

The UK police have the world’s largest DNA database: 4 million genetic fingerprints. DNA evidence convicted 88 murderers and 116 rapists in 2006; it identified victims of London’s July 2005 attacks; it has opened murder cases long forgotten. Critics complain the database is 24 per cent non-white, including 750,000 children and 140,000 people who’ve never been charged.

Surely it doesn’t matter, if they’re innocent?

There can be mistakes. A man with Parkinson’s disease was wrongly imprisoned for robbery, as his DNA was almost identical to the criminal’s. Remember the Tom Cruise film, Minority Report? If there were criminal genes, might we be arrested before committing crimes?

Is this new? Can we avoid it?
People and governments were always nosy, long before George Orwell’s Big Brother. Technology makes it easier for government, business and criminals to know where we are, what we are doing and what we want. Nick Rosen, author of the book How to Live Off-grid, advises:
- no driving licence or passport
- no bank account
- swap supermarket loyalty cards with friends
- conceal your Facebook identity
 
Is this realistic?
“How far do you want to go?” says Rosen. “I know hundreds of people who do it.”


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Glossary

we are sleepwalking... society - ci stiamo avviando come sonnambuli in una società videosorvegliata.

warns - avverte.

company files - file aziendali.

medical records - cartelle cliniche.

tag your pets - mettere un dispositivo di sorveglianza ai vostri animali domestici.

apologised - chiese scusa.

loudspeakers - altoparlanti.

behaviour - comportamento.

the police are attending - la polizia è presente.

threats - minacce.

red lights... to fine motorists - i semafori rossi sono stati manomessi per multare gli automobilisti.

Burma - Myanmar (Birmania).

young westerners’ ... reckless - gli atteggiamenti dei giovani occidentali paiono sconsiderati.

loyalty cards - tessere fedeltà.

paved - lastricata.

employer - datore di lavoro.

false rumours - dicerie, falsità.

fingerprints - impronte digitali.

convicted - fece condannare.

rapists - stupratori.

complain - lamentano.

who’ve never been charged - incensurati.

nosy - ficcanaso.

swap - scambiatevi.

conceal - tenete nascosta.