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Big Brother is Closer Than You Think

Some of us look at these infringements on freedom of movement and expression as distasteful.

Thomas G. Wilson - Big Brother is closer than you thinkAn article in The Wall Street Journal on surveillance brought back memories of English novelist George Orwell. The story dealt with the Chinese government’s attempts to control political dissent by using cameras in public places, such as along streets, hotels, trains stations and airports. In China, it is legal for police to use devices to search smartphones, without the individual’s permission, for politically charged videos or apps. In addition, in order to buy gasoline in China, drivers must first swipe an identity card and face the camera for facial recognition.

This brings back memories of my trip to China in 1983. One of our guides was a young physician who had just moved to begin his practice. He told us that through a series of tests, the government decided he would become a cardiologist. After he finished his training, the government determined he would practice in Beijing and assigned him a place to live. He had to check in routinely with a government agent before traveling to visit his family. My visit occurred just after the end of The Cultural Revolution, when numerous freedoms were restored. However, it sounds like this trend is being rapidly reversed. We see international conglomerates, such as Apple and Google, bowing to the wishes of the Chinese government for censorship. Many sources have acknowledged that information coming into and going out of the country is restricted.

Some of us look at these infringements on freedom of movement and expression as distasteful

License plate cameras are used to track vehicles and all commercial vehicles are required to have a location tracker. In addition, most goods have laserencoded buyer identification technology that allows the Chinese government to trace any purchase to its ultimate destination.

Some of us look at these infringements on freedom of movement and expression as distasteful. However, it should be noted that in recent years U.S. citizens’ computers and cell phones have been opened with warrants. We are the same people who carry cell phones that tell anyone who wants to know exactly where we are at anytime. In addition, clinicians and patients routinely use smartphones and other digital means to access electronic health records through “paperless” portals. We also buy devices — including children’s toys — that allow hackers to access our files. And we pay big dollars for smartphones that will open when they see the owner’s face. Super stuff, until one notices the increase in facial recognition software by government and private enterprise. These developments raise the question of how close we are to the totalitarian world depicted by Orwell in his novel 1984, in which the protagonist Winston Smith is told during his morning exercises facing his television screen that he isn’t touching his toes.

From Decisions in Dentistry. April 2018;4(4):8.

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