Doug Casey on Technology and Privacy
Emma’s Note: Regular readers know there’s a dark side to tech. It’s a story Bonner-Denning Letter coauthor Dan Denning has been tracking for years. That’s why, when we read this interview between longtime Rogue friend Doug Casey and our colleagues at the Casey Daily Dispatch, we knew we had to share it with you.
Below, Doug explains how technology is a double-edged sword, and how countries are using it to spy on their citizens. The “surveillance state” is already here, but will it get worse? Doug gives his take.
Casey Daily Dispatch: Doug, I came across a pretty alarming article that says China is now using millions of Zimbabwean citizens to improve facial recognition accuracy.
What are your thoughts on this? Is this just China’s latest step in trying to gain world supremacy?
Doug Casey, founder, Casey Research: Well, I’ve said for years that China is in the process of taking over Africa. In fact, that was a subtheme in my first novel Speculator, about the gold mining industry and bush war in Africa. Some years ago, a Chinese high government official said that their plan was to move 300 million people from China to Africa. That’s an incredible number of people; the Chinese think big. But it wasn’t really picked up anywhere in the press. Over the years, every time I go back to Africa I see more Chinese, and when they’re working on an industrial or a mining project, they’re all dressed in the same color jumpsuits. Almost like the Chinese in Goldfinger, if you remember.
From a long-term point of view, China is taking over Africa. It’s a very intelligent plan – and an unspoken part of their “One Belt, One Road” program. They loan money to one African government to build a port, a railroad, and an airport, or what have you. The Africans can almost never pay those loans back, so the Chinese – as part of the deal – take over the facility and staff it with their own people. This is actually going on today. If the African leaders don’t like it – unlikely since they’ve pocketed millions under the table for facilitating the deal – they will likely find their lives are in danger. If that doesn’t work, the country may have a visit from the Red Army.
I suspect that this facial recognition thing in Zimbabwe is just part of a much bigger plan that relates to the social credit system that is instituted in China now.
Dispatch: What are your thoughts on facial recognition in general? Is this a good thing or a bad thing that China’s doing?
Doug: It’s not just China. It’s everywhere. As you probably heard, in several major U.S. airports, the U.S. government – in cooperation with the airlines – is doing facial scans on people. As a replacement for boarding passes.
This isn’t just happening in China and the U.S. – but everywhere. And simultaneously, all over the world, hundreds of millions of unobtrusive cameras are in place to watch everybody all the time. On street corners, in restaurants, in airports, absolutely everywhere. It’s not just the occasional photo snapshot triggered by a radar gun pointed at your car. That’s bad enough. Unobtrusive cameras are monitoring faces all the time. And it’s not just faces, it’s your gait – the way you walk – and other indicators.
We live in a world that Ira Levin, the famous science fiction writer, drew in his novel This Perfect Day. He had governments requiring everybody, when they passed by an electronic monitor, to run their hand over it, so a chip in their hand could be read. But today’s technology is much more sophisticated and devastating. Because your presence is recorded automatically, whether you know it or not. It’s actually much more dystopian than what Levin projected in his book.
Now, although the average human doesn’t appear to mind it, I don’t like the idea of Big Brother monitoring everyone. I’m a believer in privacy. Incidentally – just as a tangent – I find it interesting that we no longer use the word “secrecy” – as in bank secrecy for instance. It’s become a very non-PC word. You’re not supposed to be secret about anything. In fact, you can’t even be “private” anymore.
Everything is now supposed to be an open book, as if you’re living in a primitive village. In pre-industrial times, pre-capitalist times, there was no privacy; walls were paper thin, and everybody could see and hear exactly what you were doing. If you were private, your neighbors and rulers assumed you were up to no good. The world seems to be reverting to primitive global village status. The trend is quite retrogressive… and anti-personal freedom.
On the bright side, ubiquitous surveillance might reduce some forms of crime. If people know that they may be watched or overheard anywhere, they may be more prone to stay legal. On the other hand, criminals are noted for their inability to foresee the consequences of their actions; perhaps the result won’t be less crime, just a higher conviction rate. The general population will probably like more surveillance. Even if it means being treated more like domestic animals. Safety first, after all.
Dispatch: I agree. And while some of these technological advances are great for our future, people seem to be forgetting the downside that comes with it…
Doug: The problem is that technology is always a double-edged sword. Whenever a new technology is developed, it’s always the rulers, the state, and the elite who get it first and use it to lord over the common people. Eventually, however, it filters down and the tables are turned. In the long run it’s liberating for the common man. It always has been.
Take the discovery of gunpowder, a huge positive for the freedom of the average guy. Why? Because now a peasant with a gun could take down an armored knight, something which was previously hard to impossible. Gunpowder was a liberator – although at first the rulers monopolized it, and it actually increased their control. The printing press was another huge liberator, because it made knowledge available to everybody, not just the priests and other elite who wanted to keep it to themselves.
In my third novel, Assassin, I deal with exactly this. How a whole suite of technologies today is being used to oppress, but will very quickly turn the tables on the state and the ruling class. Incidentally, I hate to use a term like “the ruling class”… It sounds so Marxist, and I’m very anti-Marxist. Still, it’s an accurate description of what’s going on and who these people are.
Dispatch: Is being tracked by the government completely unavoidable? What should people do… ditch their cell phones?
Doug: I have an iPhone 7, but the only time I even keep it charged is when I’m traveling – pay phones no longer exist. Or if I’m at a conference where I need to constantly keep updated on appointments. The cell phone is a very useful tool, but it’s a mistake to allow any tool to become a central figure in your life. If you look around you on a street, everybody is on their electronic device. Many people are umbilically attached to these things, like dogs on a leash.
Dispatch: Yeah, I saw a man walk right into another man the other day out on the sidewalk here. He was completely distracted. Head down, glued to the screen…
Doug: Yes. Even at dinner tables… People will sit, have dinner together, and they won’t talk to each other. They’ll be on their little devices. It’s not only impolite – which they don’t seem to realize – but it’s destructive of relationships. It says: “You’re less important than some random person out in the ether.” The things are especially dysfunctional for kids – that’s a whole other subject. It can be argued that these electronic devices are very dangerous in many ways. Not just from the point of view of the State always knowing where you are and being able to track you should they wish to. They’re destructive of people’s basic psyches.
I don’t, however, mean to sound negative on cell phones in principle. Their advantages hugely outweigh their risks. We’re just going through the teething stages of this evolution, as we once did with gunpowder and the printing press, and for that matter the computer itself. When only governments and the elite have a technology, it’s very dangerous. Once a technology is democratized, once everybody has it, it’s liberating. The cell phone allows any one of the seven billion people on the planet to communicate directly, quickly, and cheaply with anyone else. That’s fantastic.
But there are problems. One of them is becoming evident in China, Sweden, and a number of other places. People no longer use cash. They pay for things using their cell phones. And people think, “Well, this is very convenient.” Yeah, maybe it’s convenient, but it’s also very dangerous because the next step is the disappearance of physical cash – dollar bills, in other words. If everything is electronic, the Authorities will know about absolutely everything you do, everything you buy, everything you sell, and everything that you own. Privacy – forget about secrecy – will be dead.
From there the dollar itself can be replaced with a Fedcoin, a cryptocurrency issued by the government. But why stop there? God forbid you should lose your phone. The next step will be to implant a permanent chip in your body, perhaps at birth. The prospect of being part of the Matrix, or the Borg, isn’t appealing.
I presume that hacks will be developed to subvert this trend. But the kind of people who like to control others will be driving it forward as hard as they can.
The bottom line is that your convenient cell phone presents huge dangers from the point of view of personal freedom. It’s something to be aware of.
And the Chinese are definitely at the leading edge of all these things.
Dispatch: Intimidating stuff… Thanks for talking with us today, Doug.
Doug: You’re welcome.
Emma’s Note: If you enjoyed this interview with Doug, you’ll love his High Ground series. Doug and his coauthor, John Hunt, are currently working on book four. You can catch up on the first three novels in the series – Speculator, Drug Lord, and Assassin – here.
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