- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 12, 2019


LAS VEGAS — America’s on a crash course to become a supreme surveillance nation, and it’s all being done in the name of convenience.

Don’t believe it?

CES 2019 offered a remarkable glimpse into the field of technology that’s not only coming, but also here and now — and while the flying cars were conceptually cool, and the artificially intelligent fitness items handy and dandy for the fanatically athletic workout types of the world, the real story behind the product scene is a theme that goes like this: The smart homes, the smart cities of the future all come equipped with facial recognition.

And technology that tracks the routines of residents.

And computerized systems that tell when the fridge is running low on milk. Or beer.

And electronics that are tied into everything from window shades to washing machines to music boxes — all programmable and adjustable with a simple command of the voice.

“Alexa, I’m home,” are the only words that need be spoken and suddenly, the blinds close, the camera at the front door scans for unfamiliar faces, the television turns to local news, the oven begins to warm and the bathroom light pops on with the smart bulb that begins changing colors in time with the background music.

Or, “Google, find me a Mexican restaurant —” and suddenly, the room’s filled with the sounds of suggested nearby eateries, along with estimated drive times based on traffic conditions and weather.

This is not science fiction. These are examples of real products, making their way into the commercial markets. And such creations show no signs of slowing.

Google and Amazon are battling hard for the number one personal assistant slot — but consumers, wowed by the cool factor of these devices, aren’t paying as much attention as they should to the privacy pitfalls of permanent connections.

Do you really want who-knows-who knowing your personal home habits, your comings and goings and whereabouts at all hours — potentially, your private in-home discussions and telephone chats? That data goes somewhere. That data doesn’t just disappear.

Think if the technology fails, too.

Google, lock my front door” may be a convenient way of securing the home from the comfort of bed. But what if Google suffers a glitch and won’t unlock the door come morning?

These are real concerns, real pitfalls to consider before jumping aboard the convenience train. What’s more, just as enthusiastic an idea to the tech world as the smart home is the smart city, where everything from pedestrian-tracking street lights to electronically-infused streets for autonomously driven cars are the new norm.

Let’s not forget the price of all this coolness and convenience, though.

Big Tech’s big sister is Big Data. And whenever Big Data is around, privacy finds a competitor. Simply put, surveillance, and the potential for over-the-top, secretive scrutiny, becomes a serious issue.

The Constitution, the core values of our country, the concept of individual rights over the collective, the premise that citizens’ rights come from God and are inherent at birth — these are all matters that need to stay serious issues for Americans, too.

America cannot let technology trade our greatness for a few seconds of convenience — for the sake of saving someone from getting out of bed to lock the front door.

• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter, @ckchumley.

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