The ‘traceable man’ is a trope of science fiction film. It often appears in the form of an identification tattoo with the person having it scanned as they go about their daily routine. The action heats up when something dire to the protagonists existence happens and it becomes all important not to be scanned anymore. There are many examples of this, and to name a few:

  • Demolition Man (1993) – Implanted Chip
  • Fortress (1993) – Barcode Tattoo
  • Minority Report (2002) – Retinal Scans & Facial Recognition
  • Suicide Squad (2016) – Implanted Chip

This trope is used to show that the protagonists are living in a totalitarian government where every move is tracked and recorded. When they seek to alter the normality of this life, the idea is to show how living in a monitored society is a bad thing. After all creatives, such as those that make media, need to metaphorically exist outside of rules and regulation.

The trope is an extreme representation of the tracking that happens everyday. Go to the doctor a card is scanned, the ATM and a card is scanned and a possible photo is taken, drive your car on an e-tag toll road and you are scanned and photographed multiple times. But all of this is fine… because there is no one pushing you to do these things; don’t want to drive – no drivers license; don’t need a doctor – no Medicare card. It is a simple service and rule system, if you want to use something that is provided by the government then you accept the rules and have a card that will be tracked.

What would happen if the government suddenly said, if you want to live here than you must have an implanted chip? Sure they would sell it as a means to control borders to keep out the convenient scare-tactic “terrorist”. To make sure that Australia is for Australians – what ever that means.

With the way that some recent elections have gone I wonder how far off this we are. What would the implications be and what would happen to those that refuse. We could end up living in a society similar to that presented in Demolition Man, where the chipped population is living peacefully with everything provided, and those that are not being pushed into the gutter and forgotten about.

At the moment the majority of tracking the population is voluntary, and I believe that mostly it is for the planning of services. The government probably could track individuals if they really wanted to, and for things like crime and terrorism this is probably a good thing, but day to day tracking on a regular Joe is just not going to happen; the cost would far out weight any benefit.

However, what I’d like you to think about is – what would be the cost? What would it take for you to say ‘yes’ to an implant that allowed an organisation to track your every move. Would the cost be financial or social? For example, what if everything was free? Food, clothes, travel… I think it would make for an interesting experiment, not a contained one like we see on ‘reality shows’ but take five – ten people strap them with GPS and track their movement for a year, and make this data available to everyone. How would you feel about this?

Screen Shot – Timeline Google Maps by R. Williams (2017)

This is a Google tracking data at work. You can access this easy enough:

  1. Sign in to Google
  2. Open Google Maps
  3. Open Menu
  4. Select ‘Your Timeline’
  5. Click on Bar Graph to show one day

This is tracking my phone and not me. If I wanted to I could disable the GPS or turn the phone off. A implanted chip would work in much the same way, but you couldn’t turn it off and data collected is available to government bodies. Now say for example I hit someone in my car and didn’t stop, using data such as this I probably would have been arrested when I returned to work. That makes it a good idea right? But what if every time I slipped up and went 2 or 3 klms over the speed limit and was emailed a few speeding fines by the time I returned to work? Not so good now.

When it comes to tracking citizens it’s all about how the data is used, and what is accepted by the community. If it meant that it helped catch murderers and thieves, sure it’s a good thing. However murderers and thieves are usually the first ones to find out ways to get around things like this, and as I stated before tracking the average Joe is a useless waste of time and money.

Please comment below on your thoughts of living in a trackable society.

Title Image: barcodes by McCain Library @ Erskine College and Seminary