The thin line separating privacy from social life

Vehicles scanning parked cars to check payment. Plate recognition is made as the vehicle travels in the traffic at normal speed. Credit: ScanGenius

I spent a few days in Rotterdam to see my youngest son, studying there at the university. As I walked around I noticed a car with a strange apparatus on its roof and my son explained that it was checking that parked cars have paid the parking fee. 
Indeed, the strange apparatus on its roof is actually a set of digital cameras connected to a computer that in turn is connected to the park meters in the area. When you park your car in Rotterdam you are typing your car identification plate in the park meter. This information is passed on to the computers in these guardian cars. They drive along the streets, at normal traffic speed, and check that you paid your dues.

Clearly, such cars can control larger areas much more effectively than wardens walking around.

In Singapore they don't need a ScanCar. They are requiring all cars to have a transponder. This allows a central system to identify the position of each car and charge its owner accordingly. Again this is simplifying life to Singapore drivers since they don't need to look for a parking meter. The fee will be charged automatically to a monthly bill (that includes also the driving tax based on how much you drove and where).

Singapore is probably the most controlled place on Earth. This provides its citizens with several advantages, an easier life, better services, a safer environment. And a complete loss of privacy.

Our social life consists of a set of obligations. In turns these obligations turn co-existence, on average, in a better life. If we know more about you, we can serve you better. At the same time, you may not like to have "the system" to know more about you.

Yet, this is the thin line we will have to walk in the coming decades. 

On the one hand there is more and more possibility to know everything, and I mean everything, about you, including your heartbeat, and that will enable a host of services to make your life simpler and safer. The internet of things, including sensors in our own body, in our homes, in our car... will just make this even more "feasible" from a technology point of view. 

At the same time this knowledge, complemented by the knowledge about everybody else's life will make Society more reactive and useful. But with that privacy goes away. And the question is: how much of our privacy are we willing to trade for a better life and a better environment?

Author - Roberto Saracco

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