Nfld. & Labrador·Satire

Paranoid? Not at all. A letter from the perfect candidate to be the new privacy czar

We've been paying to give away our privacy for years, after all. Enjoy a little satire from commentator Edward Riche.

The surveillance state meets surveillance capitalism: A satirical column from Edward Riche

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is currently without a privacy commissioner, following Donovan Molloy's move to become a judge in the Northwest Territories. (John Gushue/CBC)

Dear Sir/Madam,

This is to express my interest in the recently vacated position, Newfoundland and Labrador Privacy Commissioner.

I do not exaggerate when I tell you that I have been something of a visionary regarding privacy.  

I was one of the first to suggest that the microwave oven was listening. 

I long ago advised that the Red Chinese would only sell us electronics into which they had installed backdoor access. 

It was I who suggested that the behaviour of Members of the House of Assembly could not be explained by cognitive deficits alone and they were likely suffering the effects of emanations from some Air Loom-like-device housed in the chambers hidden under Confederation Building. 

Go ahead and snicker, but your microwave oven is listening and is perfectly capable of communicating with more than a 'ding!'

Holding such views meant being regularly subject to ridicule. "To whom would my sex toys even bother sending messages," I was asked. "If Canadians aren't interested in Canada, why would the Russians be," people wondered. 

The tablet knew where I was going before I did 

I was mocked for suggesting that Pokemon Go was a commercial Pied Piper for the digital age. 

"It's just a game" I was told.  "If you have nothing to hide, then why do you need privacy?" was virtually a chorus.

A tablet I bought for business travel knew I was there before I did. One Google search for patent leather shoes and ads for shiny slip-ons were on the front page of the New York Times online edition — and in every story I read on every other website. That's when I started really sounding the alarm.  

But did people listen?  No, they all rushed out and paid small fortunes for smartphones with which they could be continuously tracked, never let out of sight. Consumer. Live. 24/7. 

Are you watching your iPad ... or is it watching you? (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Colleagues at work continued to scoff at my warnings about surveillance capitalism until they began receiving targeted ads for resorts in Punta Cana and Varadero after merely talking about a vacation in the sun. 

Talking about it … in the lunch room. 

Where the microwave is. 

Don't think so loud, I told them.  

As a candidate for Privacy Commissioner, my proposition is that the all-seeing eye can only be thwarted if it is baffled to its breaking point. 

If their sinister plan is to harvest our experience and translate it into tradeable behavioural data we have to act.  It is imperative that we compromise that part of our experience we cannot veil.  

Whenever I walk in front of a computer monitor, or a screen of any sort, I do so backwards.  Home alone I talk loudly in an accent I have fashioned from watching news clips in another language. (Any sort of gibberish in the domestic sphere will have the same prophylactic effect.) No one can divine your intentions if you make no sense. 

If I am ordering online, or paying with credit or debit card, I only buy things I don't want. 

My Instagram feed is really plain

I purchased a smartphone so I could leave it on and mail it to friends along with stamped self-addressed envelopes for return. When the phone is my possession I only enter wrong numbers.  I text random words to random recipients. 

If your inbox has received a cryptic "Argon", "Dilate" or "Lordosis", that was me. 

We all pine for simpler times, when surveillance capitalism was Frank at Jackman & Greene knowing to give your dog a slice of bologna when it wandered by 

I hike my trousers in such a way as to encourage pocket dials.

I have a Facebook account on which I only discuss my failures and disappointments.  I Instagram a picture of a plain white sheet of paper once a day. 

I go on Twitter to be happy and agree with people. The only questions I ask Siri are Zen koans.  I change my passwords hourly. 

We all pine for simpler times, when surveillance capitalism meant Frank at Jackman & Greene knowing to give your dog a slice of bologna when it wandered by, or the staff at Belbin's ignoring old Mr. Vatcher's order for a large bag of Bull's Eyes because they knew he was diabetic. 

But we have to accept that Newfoundland and Labrador, despite evidence to the contrary, has entered the 21st century.

Millions of homes are filling up with technologies like Google Home, smartphones and other devices — many of which have the ability to listen to your conversations. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

The machine shows no sign of weakening.  If anything, it grows stronger, more omnipotent by the day.  The marriage of the surveillance state and surveillance capitalism is shortly upon us. Biometric marketing is imminent. 

If I am offered the position of Newfoundland and Labrador Privacy Commissioner, I will only accept under an assumed name. 

I will answer no questions concerning body doubles or life-like dummies who might be serving with me. The current office will be moved to an undisclosed location. 

I will be masked. 

Thank you for considering me for the position. Only hand-delivered, hand-written replies will receive a response.

Yours, in Airplane Mode


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About the Author

Edward Riche


Edward Riche writes for the page, stage and screen. He lives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador.


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