Big Brother is indeed watching.
And I'm not talking about the Patriot Act or any other counterterrorism initiative that is, sadly, a necessary precaution in this day and age.
I'm talking about the virtual Big Brother that is about to come to a network near you. It could be your home. It could be your office. You may never know who is tracking your cyberspace usage, including your phones, your computer and even your TV viewing.
According to a New York Post exclusive, Chronicle Solutions, a UK startup, is heading across the pond to sell its software solution that allows licensees to record — like a TiVo or your personal Digital Video Recorder — every Web site, every Voice over IP phone conversation and every instant message that passes through its gateway.
Privacy experts will be sure to do a double-take when Chronicle's product hits the market here in the U.S., and this is one time congressional hearings might be must-see TV.
But the practice is legal — at least while you're at work, or virtually anywhere you talk, browse or chat that is not through your own personal modem.
Most companies — public anyway, have proxy servers that can record every local IP address on its network — in other words, the unique identifier of your computer, and trace exactly where you've been on the Internet.
Even if you're sending mail from your personal Yahoo or Gmail account, someone in your IT department can find out what was in that e-mail when subpoened by a court of law or Congress.
It's called Sarbanes-Oxley, and you can thank Enron, Tyco and WorldCom for it. The law, enacted in 2002, holds public company CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and Boards of Directors responsible for accurate accounting practices, and coverage includes electronic correspondence, which these days can mean virtually anything.
Every e-mail you send out from work must by law be stored on the e-mail server and off-loaded to either tape or online storage servers in the event your company is being investigated for one thing or another by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In other words, everything you do on your company's computer is its property and up for grabs by your boss, if needed.
Of course, storage and technology like Chronicle's is costly, but when companies do their due diligence, the long-term savings resulting from won lawsuits or SEC investigations might outweigh the setup and ongoing maintenance of such business practices.
Chronicle can also be useful when investigating human resource issues such as sexual harrassment or other office claims against the company or one of its agents.
But the majority of us can at least accept that our employers need to protect their assets through technology, and for that you should be thankful. Enron, anyone?
But what happens when your Internet Service Provider starts recording your phone calls and instant messages?
What happens if this information is accidentally left in a cab or stolen or hacked into and suddenly your phone conversations are on YouTube or YouCall or YouIdiot or whatever site pops up as a result of so much "user-generated" rich media content?
Suddenly, that $99-per-month Triple Play deal for cable, Internet and VOIP phone service doesn't seem like such a bargain, does it?
But who is to say that plain old-fashioned telephone service couldn't do the same with software sitting somewhere along the line?
The chilling concepts in "Minority Report" — like scanning retinas in grocery stores and reading minds to arrest people for thinking of committing crimes — might not be as far-fetched as you think.
And that's a potentially big Grrr!
It's one thing to save my job through audits involving electronic correspondence in the office. It's one thing to save my life and the lives of our children through random monitoring of financial activity and electronic correspondence.
It's another thing to listen to every phone conversation, read every IM or e-mail exchange on the wild, wild Internet.
This just in from Susan in Delaware:
"Well, Mike. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Then I guess you should be thrilled.
Mr. T has come out with a "Re-ali-T" show based on the grrr-factor.
It seems he will be wandering around, grrring at Obliviots and the like. Hmmmmm ... this is a stretch. Back in the day, Mr. T was made famous by his line, 'I pity da fool,' but he wasn't talking about folks who bring 22 items into the express checkout line. He meant 'any fool dumb enough to come up against me in a fight.'
Well, some honcho at TVland must be a fan of your column, because instead of giving Mike Straka his own clever, witty, fresh-faced show that exposes Obliviots to the masses, it seems we will get to see an aged Mr. T walk around intimidating those same poor naive Obliviots. (The clip I just saw featured Mr. T at an express lane checkout line with an overloaded Obliviot, and it appears he ripped the "12 items or less" sign off the stand and stuffed it in her cart.)
He seems to also have developed some sort of "growl" that sounds an awful lot like a "grrr." It comes out sounding forced and pathetic. I don't know whom to pity more — the fools at TVland, the camermen who have to witness this forced, contrived parody or Mr. T himself.
This isn't the classic (and classy) grrr-fest we are accustomed to enjoying via the "grrr guy" we know and love (aka Mike Straka). This is a form of vigilante terrorism that I fear will encourage over-stressed Self-Righteons to take matters into their own hands and imitate Mr. T in a way that will become dangerous for the poor Obliviots we have come to know and tolerate peacefully through the Grrr! column.
On second thought, Mike — this isn't flattery through imitation.
This is a reality show at its worst — exposing poor Obliviots to the masses, and demonstrating the worst possible way to deal with them.
You wouldn't have done it this way, and they shouldn't have, either. The TVland honchos missed the mark, and I'm afraid it will be the Obliviots who suffer. Thanks, Mike, for giving us a safe haven all these years through which we can express our frustration. Kudos to you."
— Thanks Susan. I'll have to bring Mr. T in for an interview and Grrr him myself!