Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Blue Oyster Card

If you’re one of those people fortunate enough to live and travel in this great city of London you probably carry one of these buggers by now…

No, not a tin of corned beef. I'm talking about ..

The Oyster Card

In the words of the Head of Oyster Propaganda...

The oyster protects a pearl in much the same way that the card protects the cardholder's money.

The Oyster also records a detailed log of every journey you make on public transport and offers scope for tracking your other movements as well; all of which information can be made available God knows who.

but talking about pearls sounds nicer and more reassuring

You can, of course, continue to pay for bus and train travel with cash rather than an Oyster Card but there’s an increasingly heavy price premium associated with that. How does £4 for a one stop journey on the Underground sound? Attractive, uh?

Alternatively, even if you do cave in and use an Oyster card, you currently have the option to continue travelling anonymously with an ‘unregistered’ card but you can’t buy monthly or annual season tickets.

Not having money to burn but not having a hard-on for faceless corporations knowing my movements either, I have plumped for the middle way and use an unregistered Oyster Card

But even then London Underground staff were dead keen for me to give over my name and address when I got the card – I was handed a form requiring my name and address to complete, even though it is not necessary for an unregistered card, and then I was told I would not have to pay a deposit on my card if I did give up my name and address.

London Underground definitely has a hard-on for knowing what I’m up to.

All with my best interests at heart, I’m sure.

Anyway, I tried topping up my unregistered card the other day and the terminal at my local tube station informed me

‘You are currently using an unregistered card. Please register your card before continuing’

And it wouldn’t let me stick any money on it.

I tried again a few hours later and the message wasn’t repeated

So, presumably, the software has already been coded to one day tell all of us with unregistered cards to go fuck ourselves and get registered. A system glitch gave me a privileged glimpse into our future.

I did try and speak with someone straight after my card was rejected but I was told that nothing could be done about the issue locally and that I would have to contact Central Services (or some other equally Brazilian term, I can’t quite remember) to put things right.

OK, me not being able to top up my travel card without yielding personal information is not a big issue in the scheme of things but, taken individually, few of these encroachments into personal liberty and freedom are.

The scary stuff will start to happen when, as is increasingly the case, all this stuff gets joined up - ID cards, CCTV surveillance, personal financial data, travel logs and all the rest. How long until that will happen? Five years? Ten years? At the current rate of change you have to start thinking sooner rather than later. Whatever, it's not really a question of 'if?' it really is just about 'when?'.

Forget about any abstract concerns about privacy or the relationship between the citizen and the state, once all this stuff is wired together we’re all fucked in a very real and tangible way. Big Time.

Mass control of individuals will become as easy as writing a batch file and pressing a button. And there will always be some power-grabbing sociopaths ready to write those batch files and press those buttons in order to ‘protect’ society from some hyped-up or bullshit threat – terrorism, global warming, crime, anti-social behaviour, name your poison.

Just think for a minute how much fun your favourite dictator from history would have with the capabilities all this intrusive technology is coming close to delivering…

He could basically target discrete groups of people based on age, sex, income level, medical records, the kind of things they watch on digital TV or the Internet, what they say in their email or on their phones, how much rubbish they throw out every week and countless other variables, varying from the trivial to the significant. And once he has targeted them he can deny them access to cash, transport, goods, services, communications, whatever takes his fancy.

Quite an alluring prospect I would say.

Of course, most believe that this kind of nightmare dystopia
could never really happen in practice – British citizens are protected by age-old laws and traditions that guarantee personal liberty and the right to protest.

Provided that is they don’t start acting like terrorists – gathering in groups, chattering on the Internet, undertaking direct action in the face of political complacency and corruption – subversive shit like that.

Whether this coincidence of increased surveillance, databasing and erosion of rights that we’ve witnessed over the last ten years is the product of accident or design kind of depends on whether you take an Evolutionary (aka 'rational realist') or Creationistic (aka 'conspiracy theorist') view of how things happen – but it
is happening.

My gut feeling is that there will come a time when enough people wake up to what’s going on around them. And when those people start trying to do something about it they will discover that preparations have been made for just such an eventuality well in advance. The shit, as they say, will hit the fan.

But things have to get a lot worse before that happens.

Me, I hope to be sitting on an island on top of a mountain of canned food before then

/ rearranges tinfoil balaclava for optimum fit


de said...

Oh stop it with your anti evolutionary schtik. Or we will kill the Wise One.

Stef said...

No! Our answer to the Great Question is the only logical one. Our Science is great. Let us not forget the great Richard Dawkins who finally freed the world of religion long ago. Dawkins knew that logic and reason were the way of the future. But it wasn't until he met his beautiful wife that he learned using logic and reason isn't enough. You have to be a dick to everyone who doesn't think like you. Prepare all the troops! We will level the United Atheist Alliance to the ground!

\ Voluntary Moratorium on using the E word for at least a month begins