Where is David?

18 Oct 2012


Ever since reading a Finnish novel called The Year of the Hare, I have become more interested in the ways that people may try to rebel against the collection of personal information in the future. The Year of the Hare focuses on one man, Vatanen, who decides that the constraints of a job, a nagging wife, and possessions are too much to bear, so he embarks on an adventure across Finland. Whilst being a work of fiction, the book’s success has come in part because of the universal appeal of the main character’s desire for more isolation.

I also recently became aware of a documentary called Erasing David, which again focuses on the idea that we may want to hide our identities in the future. According to the filmmakers, the UK is now one of the top three surveillance states in the world. In light of this, David, the creator of the documentary attempts to disappear from his London home. He hires two reputable private detectives to find him within 30 days, and they are only given his name to begin their hunt. David leaves his pregnant wife, and small son, in order to complete his objective of becoming untraceable.

Despite its sensationalist portrayals of ‘the state’ and 24-esque filming, it does serve to highlight the common mistakes people make, whether they are protective of their identities or not. For example, David's family are shown throwing away huge amounts of paperwork with private information on (I was mainly astonished at the amount of refuse they could have recycled).

Despite the overwhelming sense that we will be unable to choose how we manage our identities in the future, the film does show how some systems are working to preserve privacy. For example, a maternity ward in an NHS hospital David visits explain how they only store his name and address on their database, but not the reason he attended. The hospital state that the information is purposefully omitted so they can verify medical issues with the patient in person.

At the end of the experiment (spoilers averted here), the filmmakers reflect on how the privacy of one individual was not necessarily compromised by the private investigators, but had been taken already, using an accumulation of information from various databases, companies, and publicly available records. Whilst enjoyable to watch, and scary in places, the film managed to highlight all of the problems with identity management, without any of the solutions to privacy control.