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17 January 2019
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So what if Big Brother is watching?

15 June 2015  

There is little doubt that we are all under surveillance, whether from CCTV, people prying into our social media and e-mail utterings, or tracking where we have been and what we have bought through our use of plastic in various forms, blogs John Bowen. 

This seems to get a lot of people hot under the collar, but if we are being watched at every turn, so what?


If I go about my daily life in a reasonably responsible manner and am not up to anything untoward, then why should I worry about the fact that my meanderings and mutterings are visible? In the case of the latter I know full well that anything I post upon social media is public and I don’t put anything there that I would prefer to keep private. Yes, I am human and might make a mistake one day in posting something that, had I thought a little more carefully, I would not have done. If I do, then I know that I run the risk of being pilloried or trolled (I have had both more than once), but my skin is thick and I know the risks.  


People knowing where I am is not a new phenomenon either; my wife only has to look at the “Track my ‘phone” app on her tablet and she can see where I am. Satellite tracking of vehicles has been around for a while and I can remember a boss who would call me up and ask where I was, presumably in the full knowledge that I knew that he was looking at a dot on his computer screen that told him where I was. I challenged it on him once and he told me that it confirmed which of his team were liars.


That principle was nothing new either, though, for back in the 1950s and 60s when I was growing up, everyone knew everyone else in the neighbourhood, and you quickly learned that there was no escape from being found out if you had been somewhere that you shouldn’t have because your parents would know. Reading spy thrillers of the time where the hero was trying to avoid the Gestapo, the Stasi or the NKVD or whatever I used to think that they would have stood no chance against the twitching curtains in leafy Surrey. 


This constant surveillance was something to be resented when I was a growing lad pushing the boundaries, but something else I quickly learned was that it also often gave you the perfect alibi for when something had happened. Say a window had been broken, and you found yourself in the frame – you could be fairly certain that there were people who could confirm that you were nowhere near the scene of the crime in question.


So knowing that my movements can be tracked 24/7 and that people might read my emails bothers me not in the slightest. Yes, I know that I could end up on a list somewhere and that something might go wrong that sees me falsely accused, but that could happen anyway: It did nearly 45 years ago when I spent about six hours being questioned before it became apparent that I had just fitted a description, but was not the right bloke. Back then; I would have been very grateful for today’s technology to prove my innocence because at the time I really did think that I was in the smelly stuff.


For those of us who manage such systems, though, this is a crucial issue and that is that we need to keep an eye not so much on what they are doing, but on what they might not be doing. Systems – and the processes around them – are only as good as the people who use them so you cannot install them and think that your problems are solved because in reality a new set of problems has just begun. Big Brother may be watching, but he is one of the easiest people to fool if you know how to do it.

John Bowen is an FM consultant