I’m sick and tired of my Birkenstock-wearing, Volvo-driving, liberal friends at the ACLU whining about how government programs to monitor our phones, e-mails and library activity is the end of America as we know it. Maybe the fine points of the Constitution are still part of Jimmy Stewart movies
and some romantic version of America they teach our kids about in grade school. But it’s hard to find a place for intangibles like privacy, human rights, and due process on the corporate balance sheets that drive our globally-connected economy. These things might be nice in theory, but it may be time to realize that with our nation now living in a perpetual state of Threat Level Orange
we may not be able to afford the liberties our parents took for granted and should instead find ways to cash in on the new opportunities that universal surveillance can offer.
Instead of being outraged by Attorney General Gonzales’ revelation that the once-presumed-dead Total Information Awareness database program is alive and well
, smart high-tech entrepreneurs should look at this as the biggest marketing opportunity since Google. Given the current government’s business-friendly attitude, it should be no problem to buy the necessary legislation that permits commercial access to a sanitized version of the terabytes of data collected every day that tracks the habits of the American consumer in minute detail.
Access to this data would allow us to create a powerful, targeted, marketing tool that dwarfs Google’s ad word program. It’s easy to imagine a whole new generation of Web 3.0 startups whose mission would be to help other companies extract the maximum value from this source of information. Thanks to the highly-granular records of consumer purchases, travel, and web browsing habits, companies could market their goods and services to ever-tighter demographic niches with pinpoint accuracy.
If, for example, the database recorded a sharp increase in family auto repair bills, the news could be a valuable commodity to a local automobile dealer who’d pay top dollar to know about who was in the market for a new car. Or, when a newly-married couple suddenly stopped buying pregnancy test kits, they would represent an immediate opportunity for selling everything from maternity clothing to nursery room furniture. And, of course, the adult entertainment industry would pay handsomely to get access to web surfing habits to make sure the products they offered were tailored to individual tastes.
Both corporations and consumers would benefit from the arrangement. A brave, information-aware future would free us from being bombarded by advertising for random junk that we have no interest in and make sure we were awash in offers for the goods and services we really want. In addition, the considerable leasing fees collected by the government would help offset the huge costs of operating the warrantless wiretaps
, e-mail logging,
and data mining operations, and perhaps even turn a profit. This could translate into some sorely-needed tax relief, or at least offset the near-Trillion-dollar tab
for the war in Iraq that’s been partly kept off the government books until now.
If the business community can overcome the objections of a handful of backwards-thinking civil rights romanticists, the civilianized data extracted from our nation’s surveillance infrastructure could be the fuel that would propel our economy towards unprecedented heights. Conversely, failure to modernize our approach to so-called consumer privacy could relegate us to the economic backwaters of the world as powerhouses like Singapore, China, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia put aside these old-fashioned notions in favor of more efficient markets and a more predictable political environment that attracts big business. We should take Halliburton’s recent relocation
of its headquarters to Dubai as another signal that the world’s biggest companies are voting with their feet and favoring more business-friendly climates over countries that encumber them with costly human rights regulations.
America stands at the brink of a new frontier and it’s up to us to decide whether we value our civil rights more than the right to consume as much crap as the ads tell us to.
Comments? Questions? Thoughts on how we balance the need for security and privacy?
Write me at lhg at en-genius.net or post your comments on our new blog.