The International Writers Magazine
:National Security

Data Shadows
Victor Manley

Someone is watching you...and you

America is always the front runner. Britain always follows. The blind leading the blind.

The newspaper lay open in front of me and, again, I re-read a small paragraph at the bottom of the page. It was little more than a footnote. My eyes scanned the words- ‘American Express…detailed purchasing information…175 million Americans.’ Apparently information about sales of consumer data had been leaked to the newspapers, evidence that proved the depths of knowledge stored about people, about everyone. The trouble was that the documents they had found were already seven years old. I lifted my eyes from the paper - What did they know about us all by now?

I wondered how many people had read this article, how few would know that when they next used a computer every keystroke would be stored in their hard-drive, every link on the internet, every email, internet purchase, search would be available for the next person with the know-how to see. I suddenly felt guilty -No damn it. It’s my privacy, I should be able to do what I like. But the thought was small consolation.

How much information would there be? Seven years on from the leaked report, seven years of foraging for information, of trapping people in ever tightening nets. How much code would just 50 million people create? 50 million people’s names, addresses, phone numbers and nothing else. That would be millions of lines of code. Then add size, height, living relatives-basic stuff, and then, on top of that add buying preferences, internet history, debt, credit card details. There was no way that could be processed without incredible computer power. What was it I read the other day? Something like NASA collecting a trillion bytes of data a day just from satellites. How many trillions of bytes were there stored about us? Data had gotten beyond human ability to handle it. Who could slip in and search through? I suddenly felt like breaking my credit card in half, there and then.

I looked down into my cold coffee and decided to ‘Irish’ it up a little. My hand paused in it’s way towards the brandy bottle. Was I on record as an alcoholic? Was I recorded as a big spender? A cheapskate? A pervert? A threat? What was I seen as? What did the data point to? What bracket was I herded into? What stereotype? Would I be persecuted one day because I had once bought a ‘Rage Against the Machine’ CD?

Data, it seemed, was worth a great deal of money. And who, after all, wouldn’t pay through the nose to know what certain people were doing? What certain people were thinking?
I had never been a fan of the ‘End of the World at the hands of terrorists’ theory, but what chaos would a few alterations to code create? What would happen if a 1 became a 0 in the endless spiraling binary? Would an army of angry, heavily armed men turn up in the middle of the night to kick me out of bed?
It was worrying, but then what could I do about it?
© Victor Manley December 2005

Victor isa Creative Arts student at the University of Portsmouth

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