Earlier this month, for instance, CNN reported that police officers across the United States are carrying handheld wireless computers on which they can access private details from large commercial databases about anyone they encounter on their beat. Emboldened by a new post-Cold War role in the U.S.-led "war on terrorism," security and intelligence agencies are exploring new electronic technologies that will enhance the collection and dissemination of the private records of citizens across international borders. "It's all about data gathering and integration of databases, information sharing and risk assessment by computer generated profiling," says Roch Tassé, coordinator of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), a coalition made up of NGOs, churches, unions, environmental and civil rights advocates and groups representing immigrant and refugee communities in Canada.Thomas Pynchon, 1997, Introduction to Stone Junction:
The other day in the street I heard a policeman in a police car, requesting over his loudspeaker that a civilian car blocking his way move aside and let him past, all the while addressing the drive of the car personally, by name. I was amazed at this, though people I tried to share it with only shrugged, assuming that of course the driver's name (along with height, weight and date of birth) had been obtained from the Motor Vehicle Department via satellite, as soon as the offending car's license number had been tapped into the terminal -- so what?
Stone Junction was first published in 1989, toward the end of an era still innocent, in its way, of the cyberworld just ahead about to exponentially explode upon it. To be sure, there were already plenty of computers around then, but they were not quite so connected together as they were shortly to become. Data available these days to anybody were accessible then only to the Authorized, who didn't always know what they had or what to do with it. There was still room to wiggle -- the Web was primitive country, inhabited only by a few rugged pioneers, half loco and wise to the smallest details of their terrain. Honor prevailed, laws were unwritten, outlaws, as yet undefinable, were few. The question had only begun to arise of how to avoid, or, preferably, escape altogether, the threat, indeed promise, of control without mercy that lay in wait down the comely vistas of freedom that computer-folk were imagining then -- a question we are still asking. Where can you jump in the rig and head for any more -- who's out there to grant us asylum? If we stay put, what is left to us that is not in some way tainted, coopted, and colonized, by the forces of Control, usually digital in nature? Does anybody know the way to William Gibson's "Republic of Desire?" Would they tell if they knew? So forth.