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22 February, 2008

Not normal, children

The really scary aspect of invasion of individuals' privacy/anonymity by the state isn't so much that it's invasive but that it's becoming routine, and routinely accepted.

Counterintuitively, I regard media exposure of extreme/blatent capture of private data as harmful to privacy advocates: even as the public react against the extremes, they (we) become inured to lesser, everyday intrusions, accepting them as 'not as bad as it could be'. No. The little invasions matter too, and we mustn't be dazzled by the sensational examples.
Equally, every additional news report embeds the issue a little deeper into everyday culture, rendering it a little more accepted and no longer evincing the same level of outrage: "Identity cards? That was last year's news". It's a dilemma: am I contributing to it even as I type this text?

Perhaps an even greater problem than adult complacency is that children are growing up believing that lack of privacy is the norm – it's all they've ever known so is simply the way they presume the world is.
I can't decide whether this new toy, discovered via BoingBoing, is a symptom or a further tool of erosion.
It's a toy airport-style security scanner, allowing children to role-play 'security officers and suspected terrorists', or to practice their social compliance. It's a lot like the toy stoves and ironing boards traditionally given to young girls to impose perceptions of their social roles. That mightn't be the manufacturers' conscious intent, of course, but the result is no less insidious.

To be clear: I certainly don't object on principle to hand luggage being scanned for genuinely dangerous objects, but it's something to be merely tolerated as reluctantly necessary in specific and uncommon circumstances. If people become accustomed to bags being searched elsewhere and children think security scanners are part of the furniture of adult life, it's a tiny step to acceptance of ID cards and wider powers for state agencies to monitor individuals. And as existing instances of incompetence (repeated mass data losses by state agencies) and pointless interventionism (the war on moisture) demonstrate, that isn't acceptable.

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