September 12, 2013
- Apple’s new iPhone will have a fingerprint reader on the home button for security.
Imagine if the government required fingerprint scanners on any new phone sold after a certain date. And then imagine the government requiring phone companies to phase out service to any cell phone that doesn’t have a fingerprint sensor.
Now imagine that your phone becomes your only wallet and only means of paying for stuff. That seems likely at some point. The government won’t print cash forever, and credit cards are redundant with your phone.
What would that world look like?
For starters, it would be the end of a lot of crime. The government would know who was doing what and where it was happening. There would be no such thing as committing a crime and going on the run unless you had friends buying you food and necessities with their own phones. And even then the government could detect who your friends and family are and look for spikes in their food-buying patterns.
As I’ve written before, the apps and services that would be possible in a world where people have no privacy would be incredible. Life is mostly about moving people and things from wherever they happen to be to where they could better be used. When all the people and products in the world have a location and a history that is known to all, life could become almost magical. Your hotel room would adjust its temperature to your preferences before you finished checking in at the lobby. Every car on the road would have multiple passengers, cutting traffic and commute times in half. And those cars will drive themselves. When you approach any computer screen, your phone will act as the brains and bring up your home screen.
So that part is all good.
The only downside is that the government in such a world would have complete control over the people.
That’s a large downside.
But by then the government might have the highest approval rating of all time simply because life is so pleasant and the economy would be turbo-charged by all the new possibilities that come out of knowing where everyone is and what they want.
I’m an optimist, so I wonder if there is any future technology that will help citizens control their governments and neutralize the risks that stem from a total loss of privacy.
I think there is.
For starters, the government could make it illegal to campaign in any fashion but on the Internet, which would be free to any legitimate candidate. The process would involve local candidates winning in their own towns, even if they are running for national office, before competing in, for example, a county-wide election and then statewide and finally national. By the time the election reaches the national level, the number of candidates would be down to a handful. And no campaign money would have tainted the process.
Then I’d want more transparency on the workings of government itself. So let’s say government officials are required by law to hold work-related meeting in rooms that are wired to record everything happening. Every meeting would be encrypted and stored on government servers. One would still need a court order and a good reason to view any recordings, but I have to think it would keep most politicians from doing anything too outrageous. Even their phone calls would be recorded.
People could still meet in person to collude and scheme. But in today’s world I think that would seem like too much trouble. Ninety percent of government corruption would disappear overnight if all government conversations were recorded.
If public oversight of the government stays as is, it would be risky for citizens to give up too much privacy in return for a better economy and richer life. But if technology allows citizens to better monitor their elected representatives, perhaps that restores the balance of power.
The question of the day is this: If the government said it would record all of its own conversations, would you be okay with a law requiring fingerprint scanners on all future phones and a phase-out of cash and physical credit cards over time? Let’s say it’s a ten year plan.
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