In this transition between which of the four futures we’re going to end up in, it seems like there’s not a day that goes between hearing about our personal information being leaked, siphoned, or accidentally exposed. Often, it’s by the very organizations which are ostensibly supposed to keep us safe such as Equifax exposing our credit information which makes identity theft easier and thus opening the door for worse credit, or the NSA creating hacking tools which get spread into the public domain and used against us. But this latest reveal is just a bit more Orwellian….or should I say Atwoodian?
Security researcher Victor Gevers has discovered an insecure Chinese database of 1.8 million women, aged 15-39, along with phone numbers, GPS coordinates, photo URLs, ID card numbers, marital status, political affiliations, educational attainment, and whether the women are “BreedReady.” 89% of the records are for women in Beijing. Another field, “HasVideo,” may indicate whether they are under video surveillance, or whether a video of them is accessible. After Gevers tweeted redacted screenshots from the database, it was taken offline. (via Bleeping Computer)
If you’re never read The Handmaid’s Tale, it might be time. While the skeptic in me feels the need to point out that there could be less-terrifying reasons for this such as simple translation errors (there was a mention of poor English in the database on the Bleeping Computer article), I still think it’s far from paranoia to take this literally.
Governments have a long history of preparing for every contingency. For example, the United States has plans for an invasion by Canada and even zombie attacks! That’s not even getting into bunkers dug into the mountains for the government to escape to in a time of crisis. So it is far from conspiratorial thinking to think that in this age where the probability of nuclear war is exponentially increasing that governments such as China would keep track of women’s fertility, just in case….
This should terrify us for many reasons, not the least of which is the fragile knife edge that democracy seems to balance on. As a political scientist, I remain firmly convinced that an informed democracy is the single best form of governing we can hope for, however I am increasingly concerned that those in power seem to default to authoritarianism. The challenges climate change will bring are going to be the biggest test of democracy ever, and I frankly don’t hold out much hope that we can escape global authoritarianism in the case of a nuclear disaster.
The answer is of course more democracy, not less. We need to hold governments and businesses accountable. Things like an international online bill of rights are a good first step, but this needs teeth, and needs to be enforced, especially against the governments. This is going to be a long and difficult path to figure out how we do this, but we must do it and we must do it now, because people who don’t value freedom in the way most of us do have the financial and technological resources as well as the lead on us. They’re also the ones likely to cause the sort of disaster where a list of BreedReady women would be needed.