Most people believe that there are high levels of privacy in the real world, unlike the online world. Many understand that CCTV cameras and the like diminish real world privacy somewhat, but not to a great degree. The recordings are not stored indefinitely, unlike online data stored by the NSA and private companies. The real world has a level of privacy not found online. That said, the tides are changing. The physical world is becoming less private by the day. At the same time, online privacy is slowly beginning to increase.
In the real world, police and private companies have used camera systems to monitor thefts in shops. With the decrease in camera cost, and new developments in analysis software, they can stitch together multiple public camera feeds into an overview of large areas. They can track individuals from one city block to another, given there are cameras in both areas. With less expensive storage technology, police agencies can probably keep recordings from these cameras for longer periods of time. This would be bad for privacy, but may not actually help police much either. Crimes are usually reported within a day. More than a day’s worth of storage would probably not help much, unless police want to take down a drug dealer that works in public. Even then, no drug dealer would sell in front of a CCTV camera rather than go indoors.
Public and private drones are becoming increasingly common, and may also diminish real world privacy. Drones have capabilities which CCTV cameras do not. They are often used to track and follow particular individuals, even in locations where CCTV cameras aren’t available. A single high-altitude drone can monitor a large area, and governments do not have to spend money installing a large surveillance system on the ground. Drone use is especially common in the war against ISIS, but governments could deploy similar technologies for local policing.
Private drones may be more problematic. Anyone could potentially track anybody else. People complain about online stalking today. Drones may move the concern back to physical stalking. However, personal drones themselves can be easily tracked. Most consumers will probably not be able to afford a high-altitude drone used by governments. They will only have access to smaller ones that need to be much closer in order to track people. If a small quadrocopter is following someone around, they will probably notice. Cyber stalkers can stalk people without their knowledge. Drone users won’t have this ability.
On the other hand, the physical presence of real world stalking makes drones potentially worse. Cyber stalkers don’t necessarily know your location at all times, but drone users will. Like online NSA data collection and cyber stalking, both government and private drone use will likely have their own downsides.
The virtual realm may be doing much better in the future, at least in terms of privacy. The most widely used chat apps now contain end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp automatically encrypts all messages, Facebook is releasing optional encryption for their Messenger app, and Google’s Allo has an optional encrypted chat feature. Google’s new video calling app also comes with encryption built-in by default.
Websites have a long way to go, but web browsing is becoming more secure as well. LetsEncrypt, the organization providing free SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certification to websites, has added over 7 million domains. SSL enables encrypted connection to all of these websites. There are still numerous setbacks towards becoming more secure online. For example, Google’s servers may be handing data to the NSA, which makes its use of SSL pointless. The data is encrypted between you and Google, so at least nobody other than Google and the government can access it. Most online security issues will not go away anytime soon, but we are at least moving towards increased security.
While one’s public actions are under more surveillance, virtual actions are increasingly secure. If both trends continue, we may end up with amazing online privacy and absolutely none in public.
A real-life surveillance state would be far more useful than a virtual one. People do commit crimes through the internet, but it’s impossible to kill someone through their computer. NSA data gathering can’t solve murders, and they don’t seem capable of preventing terrorist attacks either. CCTV cameras and drones may actually be able to make public spaces safer. This form of surveillance also wouldn’t be as intrusive. If someone is out in public, everyone can see them. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy. CCTV cameras and drones should not make any difference to people’s behavior. This is not the case for private communications. I would rather live in a safer world with public surveillance than the current system that seems to lack public safety, public privacy, online safety, and online privacy. We can at least get safety in public and privacy online, which is a big step forward.