Back in the late 90s, life was good.
Dial-up internet tones filled houses in major cities in Australia. Owning a mobile phone was considered extravagant. House prices could be bought with only one wage earner in the household. In Melbourne, a bus ticket home could be bought for 80 cents. You could download free music through Napster, and no one really cared that it was illegal.
This isn’t a memoir about a time before technology invaded our personal space.
But there was a certain freedom from technology that isn’t with us anymore.
The ‘greatest’ scam making the rounds was finding a person above the age of consent who would willingly give you their driver’s licence slip.
Once you had the slip, you’d shuffle on down to VicRoads (which administers licensing services in Victoria), pay the new licence fee, and have your photo taken. Next thing you know, you’re walking out with a fraudulent plastic card that allows you into adult venues.
It was stuff a lightweight rebel dreams of.
Nobody wanted to set up fraudulent bank accounts. They were simply in a rush to grow up.
Of course, like all loopholes, it didn’t take long for VicRoads and the police to catch on. As the Y2K bug turned out to be nothing more than an exhausting amount of re-coding for programmers, VicRoads began keeping records of all photos taken, so they could be compared to previous ones.
Just like that, the loophole was closed.
I vividly remember this time for two reasons. It was around the time that I acquired a perfectly legal form of identification. But it was also the time when my tinfoil-hat wearing old man brought up his concerns regarding national identification.
My father argued then — as he does now — that it was a way to create a database to recognise and track citizenry. That our freedoms were solely being eroded as the government increased their powers and stole our privacy.
What made him sound like a kook at the dinner table all those years ago now appears to be prophetic.
Today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will put his case to the Council of Australian Governments to demand that all Australian states and territories hand over their entire database of drivers’ licences under the pretence of strengthening national security laws.
Turnbull added that up to 50% of Aussies are already on the federal government’s facial recognition database through their passports. By trotting out that line, I guess he’s hoping that you will just accept that your loss of privacy is being normalised, rather than something that is being stolen from you.
Of course, Turnbull then went on to dismiss fears of hacking, saying: ‘The alternative is to not use data at all. You can’t allow the risk of hacking to prevent you from doing everything you can to keep Australians safe.’
Just when you think the opposition would come to your defence to stamp out this incredible invasion to your privacy, the opposition defence spokesman Richard Marles said that Labor supports the move:
‘Our instincts and our reflex is always to achieve bipartisanship on this and we’ve worked hard with the government to be on the same page on a whole raft of laws that have made Australian a safer place.’
This news comes hot on the heels of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. While not being defined as a terrorist attack by the US government, Aussie pollies are hitching their legislation to the everyone-is-in-peril bandwagon. Terrorists sleep among us is the implied claim. We must be saved from ourselves!
By acquiring licence details, the federal government argues that they can then identify a potential public threat immediately. Peddling the idea that greater surveillance is the key to safety.
Ramped up surveillance makes people no safer. Instead, it allows for the passive collection of your personal data, while encouraging the fantasy that if they can see you, the state can protect you.
What they leave out is that nationwide biometric data collection leads to the far more sinister outcome of population monitoring.
If the Aussie government gets its way, it will be able to identify any Australian with a driver’s licence in mere seconds, instead of the current 10 days, through facial recognition technology. Giving our pollies the ability to use this in all public spaces like shopping centres, sporting stadiums and airports for example.
The only hope for you is that this terrifying move might not comply with international law, according to Deakin University criminology lecturer Adam Molnar. He argues that this proposal doesn’t give people consent in handing over their biometric information when travelling through public areas.
‘It is mass undifferentiated surveillance that can be used regardless of innocence and no participation in a criminal activity. There is no opt-out for this, so in a criminal justice context, this breaks down the conventional notion of a probable cause for stop and search powers.
‘There has been a long standing clause for law enforcement that they have to have a probable cause to conduct a search. This runs dangerously close if not over that line.’
I highly doubt complying with international law will be a concern for the federal government. After all, they will peddle the story that mass data collection is for the good of the people.
It’s not. And it never will be.
The government will likely sneak this legalisation through. And that’s one more piece of information they’ll have on you.
The difference now is that the computer knows who you are in a crowd.
Editor, Markets & Money
PS: The only upside to mass surveillance in my view is for the companies that are developing technologies to monitor us. If you can’t prevent the changes that are coming, you may as well profit from it.
Our in-house technology guru Sam Volkering has a much more optimistic view about biometric capabilities. Over at Australian Small-Cap Investigator, Sam regularly looks for small-cap stocks that have profitable new ideas for Australian investors. Over the past 12 months, Sam has added some incredibly exciting stocks to his buy list. Click here to find out what sectors of the Aussie market are flying right now.