Magazine article The Christian Century

Watchful Eye

Magazine article The Christian Century

Watchful Eye

Article excerpt

EACH TIME "someone clicks on a Web page, makes a phone call, uses a credit card, or cheeks in with a microchipped pass at work, that person leaves a data trail that can later be tracked. Every day, billions of bits of such personal data are stored, sifted, analysed, cross-referenced ... to build up profiles to predict possible future behaviour" (the Economist, September 29, "Learning to Live with Big Brother"). Can we escape? Never. "America ... has an estimated 30 m[illion] surveillance cameras.... Every Briton can expect to be caught on camera on average some 300 times a day."

Should this terrify us? According to the Economist, few people mind the intrusion. What is more, many of us welcome surveillance, which we are told is a protecting instrument in a time of terror.

The increase in technological sophistication and public bewilderment has led to nonchalance among all but the professional worriers and guardians on the civil liberties front. It was not always that way.

Many an adult who was brought up religiously will remember being threatened with the data stored in the divine brain behind God's all-seeing eye, as pictured on the Great Seal and the dollar bill. In a footnote to the doctrine of divine omniscience, God was called the cosmic snoop who goes everywhere you go. This God, said parents and pastors who were frustrated because their snooping range was limited and their eyesight poor so their kids got away with stuff, was waiting to whomp you. So be good. Eventually people yawned, however, because punishment for the behavior turned up by such data was left for a future life.

Omniscience refinement number two, which we thought had been left behind, is enrapturing millions today. When Billy Graham published World Aflame in 1965, I reviewed it in the Sunday New York Herald-Tribune. I remember being awed that the evangelist was "up on" technology. …

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