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Will technology restrict individual freedom?

Ross O. Storey | July 6, 2009
Can governments resist the temptation to monitor everyone and everything? 

With Singapores Next Generation National Broadband Network (Next Gen NBN) to start to come on stream from early next year, the Singapore government is enthusiastically painting a picture of a society that will be transformed by greater connectivity.

They say the Next Gen NBN will transform the way we work, live, learn and interact. Its exciting stuff, but is there also something of a privacy worry behind it all?

At the recent imBX 2009 conference, the Lion Citys Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) gave a sneak preview of some of the innovative next-generation services that are expected to be delivered over ultra-high speeds of 100 Mbps to beyond 1Gbps.

Of course, Singapore is already a very hi tech regional hub in Asia, with a household broadband penetration rate of nearly 112 per cent in April 2009, according to the IDA.

The Lion Citys mobile phone penetration rate is now 133 per centthats more than one mobile phone for every household. And 90 per cent of enterprises (with 200 employees or more) have an established presence on the Web. Some 94 per cent of Singapores schoolchildren own computers.

Future services

All these figures can be a bit overwhelming, especially talking about speeds across the broadband network, but I was fascinated to read through some of the future services that Singapore expects to offer.

How about remote telemedicine, with patients being able to confer with their doctors from home, via their Internet connection, even using video conferencing? Or even small businesses being able to cut their travel costs by video conferencing with their local clients, partners and colleagues through high-definition transmission?

Then theres the ability for business to be able to deploy closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras to capture high-definition streams to incorporate into their business applications such as security monitoring, smart advertising and face and image detection services.

A privacy downside?

On the privacy downside, this will likely mean that everyone will be able to be identified by cameras when they enter shopping malls, but I think this may already be happening.

Im sure there will be other government security aspects of this. Singapore already demonstrated just how the authorities can use technology to track escapees such as former fugitive Mas Selamat, by circulating photos via SMS on mobile phones. I recall I was traveling in Bali, when I received an alert from the Singapore police, complete with photo, urging me to watch out for this man.

How long will it be before we will be receiving live videos from the government, announcing various community services or giving safety warnings? Lets hope it wont mean that the authorities can individually track each and every mobile phone owner who has their device switched on.


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