Big Brother phoned me today.
I just got back from running a number of errands, most of which cost money. I picked up my son’s car, shopped for groceries, put gas in his tank, did some banking – transferring my monthly household and tithe money from our bank to my credit union. Like a lot of us, I used my debit card for all the transactions.
I didn’t shop anywhere different than I always do, I didn’t spend any more money than I normally do, and I didn’t transfer any different amount than I do every month. I did all this in the course of one and a half hours.
By the time I returned home from shopping and banking, there was a phone message from the security people at my bank. Something in my spending pattern had triggered an alert and they wanted to verify all the spending I’d done that day – where, when and how much.
While I appreciate the speed with which they responded to whatever it was that tripped their alarms, I’m also a lot spooked by this. Yes, had this been somebody who’d stolen my card or my identity, it would have been more than gratifying to see how quickly they spotted the discrepancy between these behaviours and my usual patterns and acted on it.
But at the same time, they spotted a discrepancy in my routine and acted on it. That’s spooky, it’s scary and I don’t like the idea that if I do something out of my usual pattern because it’s more convenient for me (I took the money out of the ATM at the credit union instead of the bank’s ATM) I have to explain to some authority what I did, how I did it, and why.
I know Big Brother’s been around since long before 1984. I’ve been aware of the increasing surveillance and control in our society for a long, long time. But I shudder in shock every time I bump up against it. I’m not allowed to deviate from my routine without justifying myself to authorities anymore – and no matter how benevolent the intentions (to protect me from identity theft and from losing my money) it is a fact that along with the increased security, I have that much less freedom to act as an independent, mature adult and make my own choices without justifying them to authority. Every year, I become younger in the eyes of authority. (Boy, I wish my mirror reflected that reality! By my calculations, I’d look 25 again.)
The really scary part is that this is a very slippery slope. Every time the bad guys manage to circumvent the security- whether it’s a bank, a store, a business or a government, we’re going to lose more freedom. And our children and grandchildren are going to think that asking permission to go where you want, do what you want and see whom you want is a normal way to live. Because it keeps them safe.
Except I wonder who we’re safe from?