Moral distance towards oneself

Surveillance and identification technologies can follow our actions everywhere: satellites photograph, traffic controls register, server behaviour is analysed, telephony is monitored, public spaces are kept under surveillance by video cameras, customer behaviour is studied, financial transactions are documented. Our identity is stored in many databases. By whom, when and where this is done, we cannot say. Without a passport one is not able to travel, without an ID-card one cannot attend school, without a bank account one cannot even receive a salary in many countries. When one is really poor one hits a wall again and again. To have an identity in the modern world costs money and requires being able to read and write, to be able to process information. The digital divide between having an identity and having no identity is very difficult, it has become dependent on having administrative skills and financial means. In chapter 2 I concluded, it is particularly the fact that there is no reciprocity possible, no feedback, between a person and these monitoring and surveillance systems that makes them a threat to personal and political freedoms. After having done this study I argue that the effect of this witnessed presence, which cannot be influenced by the person who is witnessed, is much deeper even. This person takes a 'moral distance' towards the own self.

Ethical behaviour, which is part of the foundation of identities as well as that it is the ground for how people live together, is based in the physical experience as is argued by Damasio (Damasio 2004). Because of the more and more ubiquitous surveillance and identification technologies, some elements of the physical identity have become digitized and have literally moved out of our reach. Autonomy, to be able to safeguard one's physical, social and psychological well-being, is jeopardized comprehensively for people with an identity, as well as people without an identity.

When a person has an identity it is hard or impossible to control this identity in all the databases that execute information that affects a person's life. A person fills in forms and sends facts and data to certain organizations, but one does not know by who, where and for what purpose one's digital data concerning one's identity is used. We are not informed when our data is matched, reformatted or deleted. The fact that I cannot control my 'data-identity' in all databases, that I am not informed about what is done with data concerning me, that I do not know how and where and by whom I am under surveillance, is too disturbing to handle. I cannot retrieve my data from the variety of systems, and the way systems are designed implies that I have no control. My inclination is to take care of myself, to cherish my autonomy. But the systems do not allow me to take care of myself in this way. So I am forced to take a moral distance from myself. I have hardly an opportunity to act upon my own survival and well-being when the systems produce 'collateral' damage. The effect of scale on moral distance is an issue worth studying in itself; one I cannot address in the context of this study. Because many people have to operate in crowds and large data-clouds during their day-to day lives, this issue requires rigorous further research.