The Magazine August 2013 - Page 13

That is precisely what has happened. And at the same time, ever more sophisticated computer algorithms make it possible to sift through and analyze larger and larger slices of that data, raising social and ethical dilemmas that cannot be ignored. The future is here. Nearly everything that happens from now on has the potential not just to be seen by some restless King David or overheard by an eavesdropping Polonius but also stored indefinitely. Government agencies, and the private corporations working with them, collect and store billions of records every day, and they’re hungry for more: not just phone records and Web addresses but e-mails, texts, downloads, medical records, retail receipts, bank balances, credit-card numbers and travel itineraries

The world glimpsed a corner of this future in April, when two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The scene was chaos. The bombers had vanished. Yet within a few hours, their faces were plainly visible on TV screens around the world. It turned out that every nefarious move they made as they delivered their deadly packages to Boylston Street had been scanned and stored by surveillance cameras. Their quick capture was a triumph for law enforcement but left an unsettling realization in its wake: everyone else on those teeming Boston sidewalks was also being watched and remembered.

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