Looking out for data surveillance predictions for 2020

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What will√°surveillance and tracking look like in 2020? It's only 13 years away. Here are some fanciful predictions.

Auto tracking. Every car will be required to have a transponder, and automated highway readers will record all trips. The transponders will allow agencies to monitor driving habits and to issue electronic tickets for violations. The system will collect fees for using congested roads, replace parking meters and prevent undesirable people from driving in certain areas. For example, pedophiles will not be permitted to drive near schools. Driving with a malfunctioning transponder will be illegal. A black market will emerge in cars registered to "clean" or dead individuals.

Very personalized PC. Every computer will have a static IP address. No one will be able to operate a computer without registering through a token, fingerprint or other identification device. All e-mail will be stored permanently, and records of other network activity, including searching and transactions, will also be retained. Stolen computers will be a hot black market item for criminals who will use them to avoid accountability for online actions.

MySpace is mandatory. Every individual will be required to maintain a personal Web page with basic contact information accessible by the government and the public. People with out-of-date pages will be fined. An individual will be allowed to post minimal information for public use, but the government will demand more. Everyone will be required by law to have an active e-mail address. Official government notices will be sent by e-mail rather than by post.

Society caught on tape. Surveillance cameras will be even more universal than they are today. You will not be able to walk down a street, enter a store, park in a garage, ride the subway, sit at your desk at work, open your front door or do anything else outside your home without being recorded.

Penniless marketplace. Currency will disappear and all money will be electronic. Every transaction will be permanently tracked. Private money systems will develop using tokens, gold and other forms of intrinsic value. Paying in private money will work for some things, but prices for non-tracked activities will be double to cover the risks involved.

Dog tags go digital. Identification chips implanted in the human body will be banned after some people are maimed or killed to obtain their chips. However, governments will promote the wearing of personal transponders so that scanners can identity each person within range. Personal transponders will first be touted as a safety program for children and then as a protection against terrorists. If your transponder does not work, you will be subject to arrest in any public space. Trafficking in transponders will be illegal, but widespread.

Fast food goes under the table. The health and insurance industries will try to control costs by monitoring food purchases. They will begin by offering discounts to individuals who allow monitoring of their eating habits, but monitoring will eventually become mandatory. Separate checks will be universal in restaurants. Restaurants will prosper by putting fish on the menu, but will tell customers that the halibut is actually a hamburger. Eventually, insurers will audit restaurant food purchases to try to keep the reporting system honest. There will be a black market in unregistered junk food.

Healthy living is a must. Government and private insurers will mandate that individuals agree to health treatments as a cost-saving measure. Computerized health records will be centrally reviewed to monitor compliance. If you don't get a required treatment, your insurance will cost more or be cancelled, you will lose your job, your tax return will be audited and you will be labeled as unpatriotic. Digital health records will permit precise scoring of individual and family health risks. Each insured person and family will be individually rated and priced, even under employer-provided health insurance policies. An underground system of healthcare will develop for people who don't want their insurer to know about some medical conditions. People will pay privately for care to avoid higher rates, uninsurability or monitoring.

Direct marketing activities will be positively affected by the availability of more personal information. However, public aversion to spam, telephone calls and postal mail will make it harder to exploit the information by traditional means. Many free Internet services will remain free only to those who do not block ads.

These predictions come with the usual guarantee. Will there also be new and improved privacy protections by 2020? Maybe, but that's a subject for another day.

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