Chapter 8

Security camera notice near George Orwell’s homeThe Total Information Awareness program (though it wasn’t yet publicly called this) got a lot of attention in the months after 9/11. Many people were only vaguely aware of the government’s high-tech surveillance initiatives (both domestic and transnational) until they began to crop up in the news, but they’d clearly been working behind the scenes on these programs for many years.

The R&D was centered at DARPA, and in this story, Jeannie Reese has been its chief developer and evangelist before the order comes down to unleash the program’s full capabilities.

One thing I hoped to foreshadow in this chapter was just how much data on each of us is actually flying around out there, and how chilling it might be if some agency had the capability to collect and assemble it all. Once we begin to give up our privacy, no matter which good intention we might cite for doing so, it will be very hard to get it back again.

If you doubt you’re being watched, take a quick read through the user agreements of the online-enabled applications installed on your computer. (Start with the toolbars in your browser.) You might be surprised at what you agreed to when you clicked “Accept.” Your cell phone knows where you are at all times, within meters; do you imagine the phone company doesn’t? Credit card purchases not only position you, they profile you, too, and much of that information is actively shared and aggregated between companies.

And see all those cameras on the city streets? There are a lot of those you don’t see, too.

So, the premise in the story is, somewhere there’s a massive computer system that’s painting a picture of you, and it’s a picture that’s getting more detailed, personal, and invasive every day.

Interesting book-related facts: 

  1. IRIN (Jeannie’s surveillance engine) was called ARGOS (Associative Relational Global Observation Services) in the original manuscript. In Greek mythology, Argos (or Argus) was a giant with a hundred eyes, a perfect watchman who served the gods in various ways. We changed the name of Jeannie’s system early in the editing process, but if you track down a copy of the self-published version of the book, you’ll notice this difference.
  2. The “UID number” presented in the text was originally an actual Social Security Number. I’d gotten a verbal O.K. to use the number, on the basis that its holder was deceased and the SSN was therefore invalid. My U.S. publisher wisely required more than a verbal authorization, though, and when I sought permission this time, it was denied.  So, I decided to use this semi-famous SS number, since it appears openly on the Social Security Administration’s own Web site. Denied again. The UID# (Universal ID number) that now appears in the book is part of a fictional(?) global identification system of the type some believe will herald the onset of a one-world government. The number that’s printed there does identify something real, though; see if you can find its meaning with an online search.