26 April 2007

Total Information Awareness

Nearly four years after [US] Congress pulled the plug on what critics assailed as an Orwellian scheme to spy on private citizens, Singapore is set to launch an even more ambitious incarnation of the Pentagon's controversial Total Information Awareness program -- an effort to collect and mine data across all government agencies in the hopes of pinpointing threats to national security. Wired

I've long suspected that as policymaking become more and more removed from people, the resulting social stresses will lead in one of two directions: either malign or benign dictatorship. One cause of the widening gap between politicians and the electorate is the perhaps inevitable targeting of numerical indicators by governments of more than several hundred people. Unfortunately the targeted indicators are often implicit; chosen because they are readily available rather than because they tell us anything about societal well-being.

The targeted indicator par excellence seems to be Gross Domestic Product per capita. Singapore is perhaps the most focused exemplar of this subordination of virtually everything to quantifiable economic indicators. I can't fault the logic of the Singaporean Government's interest in the TIA - given where it, and most of the rest of us, are now. As society becomes increasingly seen as an adjunt to an economic system, the loss of community and possibility of social collapse call for government - never slow to expand its role - to provide a solution. If that government is both benign and prescient, then something like the TIA becomes inevitable. Not the worst option by any means, but regrettable all the same.

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