Volume 14, Number 11
December 4, 2007

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Observations From the Edge

onur çelikSomeone stole my identity, where's my zap gun!

About two weeks ago, two CDs went missing while being transferred between two government offices in UK. They were just your standard issue 120 mm diameter CDs with one plain and one shiny side. When the news of their loss leaked to the public, hell broke loose. C'mon now, people lose stuff everyday, it's a part of life! Well, I guess this case could be exceptional, considering these data storing thingies contained account details of half the population.

There is this wonderful thing called identity theft, yet another term vulgarly introduced to our vocabulary by cyber-life. It has become an inseparable part of our otherwise innocent lives. You might not have heard of the term, but a good chunk of our round shaped planet's inhabitants lose their mental functions just hearing it - not because of the poetic qualities of the words, but because of its implications. If you believe losing your identity as a human being is the worst scenario possible, think again. This one is even worse because your wallet is at stake here! If people access your personal details and your account information, they can -if they can trick you into filling the gaps- sweep your account clean. Who could imagine storing thousands of archive rooms worth of data on a shiny little piece of plastic -supposedly a good thing- could stir up so much trouble. Technological inventions were meant to help mankind, no? Sure, the compact disc technology enables you to carry all the episodes of your favorite show anywhere you go but it can also contain all the information, financial and/or personal, about the people of a continent. Ouch.

One might question why an institution would collect data on the people it's bound to serve in the first place. The response to that would to serve the taxpaying "customers" better. The government needs details like how many children you have and their ages in order to provide you funds for child benefits. It also needs details like where you were last night to … err… provide you with better security by sending out more patrols to places you frequent. Your phones are listened to so they can let you know right away if you're mispronouncing any words. See, it's all in good sport and done with the best of intentions. Those security cameras are there for your safety. It might seem intimidating to see police forces develop batons inspired by cattle prods and electric charged guns modeled after the Star Trek arsenal, but it's there only to better protect and to serve. They use these high tech appliances so they won't have to resort to physical force when people step out of line, but instead exercise "high voltage, low current electricity" to subdue wrongdoers in a much more civilized way. Excuse my complete lack of knack for sciences positives and negatives, but doesn't sending a jolt of electricity into a human being damage his/her nervous system? What does a humanities student know anyways? I'm sure it's all been calculated and statistics have determined it to be the most efficient way. I have a personal resentment against manmade lightning, I suppose.

If you get the notion of an Orwellian nightmare coming true, with cameras everywhere and people easily accessing more information about you than you know about yourself, well, don't. It's very benign and harmless. It doesn't shoot you dead like that menacing entity "Big Brother" would. Definitely not! It's a "Little Sister," if that. Instead of pumping you full of bullets, she just pokes you with a high voltage stick that stops you breathing at the very most.

And for those who still trying to figure out why information leak is called identity theft, or even taking it to the next step by asking questions like "what the heck is identity anyways?" I can only say this; such questions belong to PhD level philosophy classes, not to column like this, sorry.

Onur Çelik (AMER/II)
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