I recently watched a UK documentary on the Surveilance State called “Erasing David” that discussed the large amount of data that is collected by government and corporations on individuals. The main character in the film David Bond has set up an exercise where he wants to go into hiding for a period of 30 days to see if he can be found by a couple of private detectives. He does this to see either how easy or difficult it would be to be found given the extensive amount of data which is stored about individuals in the United Kingdom. For example, car rentals, closed circuit television cameras, internet service providers, individual corporations and the UK government all collect details on individuals. This effectively creates a profile of every citizen in the country.
The film follows his journey over this time period to see if he can prevent being captured by the private investigators. He quickly finds out how difficult it is to remain entirely anonymous. The detectives immediately get access to his Facebook account and begin printing off photographs he has posted of himself on his personal profile. They are also able to locate his birth date which leads to many additional pieces of data. Each day, the detectives are able to track David’s journey as he travels from the UK to Belgium, Germany, France and back. David visits a blogger in Belgium who posts his discussion with David online which immediately identifies David and his specific location in Belgium. David then travels to Berlin to interview former victims of the East German Stasi. The stories about the former East German state are particularly disturbing and are as relevant today as it was at that time. The detectives try to track data trails to David through his Blackberry, Internet cafes and his home garbage. What the film highlights is the almost impossibility of remaining anonymous based on one’s data trail no matter how careful one is.
The documentary resonates very strongly these days especially when some governments use a politics of fear to argue for increased surveillance of its citizens. I highly encourage everyone to watch this great documentary.
Even though there are many aspects of your identity that you have limited ability to protect there are some things to consider:
- Check your security settings in Facebook and other social networking sites to ensure you are only communicating information to your intended friends and contacts.
- Never post your birthdate on your social networks to prevent hackers from guessing account passwords.
- Avoid broadcasting your current location via your smartphone to prevent home invasions.