Friday, July 13, 2007

Eye in the sky

A murder trial has all of Ireland transfixed these days. A Mr. Joe O'Reilly is accused of bludgeoning his wife to death. He claims he was on the other side of town at the time of the crime. The court has now heard testimony that the defendant's cellphone calls put him near the scene of the crime at approximately the time the murder was committed. It turns out that a cell service provider can link calls to the mast that first receives them. And so the jury got a map tracing O'Reilly's movements across the Dublin area, mast by mast by mast.

It goes without saying that the recipients of O'Reilly's calls can be identified, and if you guess there is another woman in the picture, you're right. Mr. O'Reilly's guilt or innocence remains to be seen.

It's getting increasingly difficult to be naughty these days, much less murderous. Someone, somewhere can follow our every move, in real space and in cyberspace. Google Earth and Local Live are watching from above. Surveillance cameras monitor every public space; in some European cities they peer down almost every street. (There are 4 million CCTVs in the UK, or one camera for every 15 people.) I don't know much about the technical details, but I suppose the government can track any GPS-equipped automobile if they choose to do so.

When I was a kid, our moral monitors warned us, "God sees everything." And so we imagined that even under the blankets in our bedroom with the door closed the Big Guy had his eye on us. No sooner did we shake off that oppressive sense of divine surveillance, than omnipresent electronic surveillance appears on the scene. Bless me, Google, for I have sinned.