Cell-Phone Spyware
The View from 1969
  

Illuminant by
Robert Wilfred Franson

a luminant of —
The Five Way Secret Agent
Analog, April & May 1969  (this edition reviewed)

later book editions February 2015

  
Efficiency for thee — and for me

In the 1960s Mack Reynolds wrote a lot of near-future science fiction based on extending the American-Soviet Cold War in various ways. His novel The Five Way Secret Agent (1969) is of this type. It's not a good novel, in imagination, plot, characters, action, or style. A great deal of the novel consists of characters lecturing each other, mostly on the half-baked socio-economics of a quite dull future, and mostly rehashing what the listener already knows. And the reader already knows too, after a while, as the lectures are repeated.

Nevertheless there is something good here. Everyone carries Reynolds' prediction of a cell phone, referred to as a pocket phone or pocket TV phone. This technology not only is efficient, it's for our own good as a society, too:

... in this day of the universal identity and credit card built into your pocket TV phone, there was no such thing as a runaway teenager. The police, through the computers, could get an immediate fix on any pocket phone and locate the person with that identity number to within a few square yards.

And it wasn't a matter of throwing away your pocket phone, either. You couldn't exist in the modern world without your combination pocket TV phone, credit card, identity number. You couldn't so much as buy a bar of candy or ride an underground, not to speak of purchasing a meal in an auto-cafeteria or renting a hotel room.
  

Other people may find their own efficient uses of your cell phone:

"Didn't you know any citizen's pocket phone can be utilized as a bug? Everything you say, from now on in, is monitored. Not necessarily a human on the other end. They have a computer, usually, and rely on key words. Words like crime, subversion, radical, demonstration, gun, fight, underground, revolution, so on and so forth. ... Not just what you say over the phone, after you've activated it, but whatever you say and whatever anybody else within twenty feet or so of you says."
  

It's also handy for governments, major corporations, and crime syndicates to know what books you've been reading:

"You forget it's a computerized world, Bader. I should have said that I knew you had checked them out on your library booster TV screen. Whether or not you read them, is another thing. But the computers keep record of every book tapped, for statistical purposes, among others."
  

So those are some bonus uses of cell phones assisted by television and computers, as seen from 1969. With a generation of advance warning, surely the citizenry became aware of the potential liabilities as well as benefits, and there was a spirited debate among elected representatives to keep organizations within Constitutional limits; and imaginative competition among corporations working to protect privacy as efficiently as to facilitate eavesdropping.

Or maybe not. As we like to tell ourselves, it can't happen here.

  

  
© 2015 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
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