The Old Man from Bucharest

September 12th, 2011

Bucharest, Romania

A sharp glance to the left and there he was, my old man.

Earlier today on my morning walk I noticed a charismatic looking old man sitting on the steps leading down to the Piata Romana train terminal. As my eyes fell on him I straightaway felt that pleasurable warmth we might feel when we see a loved one coming nearer from the distance. “Hullo old man”, I whispered to myself, “we two have met before.” He was tall, thin, with a frowzy silvery beard, and ascetic in his appearance. I would guess his age somewhere in the seventies. He was wearing a long brown coat which fell below the knees and which reminded me of a huge poster I had once seen in Istanbul of Turkmenistan aksakals. Walking on I decided to take a seat at the nearby bus-stop before heading to the hotel for a late breakfast and a change of shirt. Within a few minutes I sensed a welcome presence approaching to share my bench. A sharp glance to the left and there he was, my old man. Thereupon I also noticed the eyes; a dark shade of green and a little sunken. They were peaceful, comprehending eyes. I felt them looking into me, through and past the boundaries of my flesh. As I have felt before with the elders of the desert. We stayed together, the old man and me, for the better part of two hours. We sat quietly observing the world and listening to the stories. Now and then we turned to look at each other. He then left disappearing into the busy street. Who was he and where did he go, Michael? I would think our phlegmatic Irishman Samuel Beckett would have liked this picture. We are all waiting. The not too easy task is to identify things and to give them their name.

N.B. The image in this entry is not of the old man in the story. After much searching online this striking photograph I have added here is amazingly close. My beautiful "old man" would not permit for me to take his photograph. MGM

Draft for a little story after a chance encounter

An old man stepped out into the bright light and headed towards Piata Romana. He looked about with the gaze of the barn-owl and walked off into the direction of the bus-stop where others were also waiting. His disorganized flowing silvery beard and his balding head did not detract from the compelling loveliness of his countenance. Though he could have done with a good scrubbing and his clothes were in need of a wash, there was yet this ‘cleanliness’ about him that you would not have considered him in any manner soiled. The younger man with the laptop in his hands, next to whom the old man from Bucharest sat to rest, was also balding but was clean shaven for his time had not yet come. The old man was carrying a small suitcase. “They usually do” the younger man thought to himself, “…these types of fellows seem to always be carrying suitcases and do not go for shoe-laces either.” The younger man, the one whose time had not yet come, peered into the suitcase which was held together by two large luggage straps. He spotted a fleece blanket of different colours and a gold-leaf trumpet. He also thought he could make out a plume of white feathers. The old man and the younger man exchanged glances, each accepting and recognizing the presence of the other. Their eyes scanned the crowd with their heads moving in unison left to right, up and down, precisely as the moment would require. Now and then their attention was lost to a robin or to a leaf from the black locust. And the old man and the younger man would look at each other, acknowledging the beauty in the world which goes by many names. The younger man offered the old man a Romanian pretzel; he took it without saying a word except to nod his head in approval. The old man from Bucharest with the disorganized flowing silvery beard reached into his torn coat and pulled out a small monumental tree. He then jumped to his feet and with episcopal dignity lowered his head and touched his chest with his right hand. The younger man did the same. But the old man did not leave until the younger man took off his shoes and offered them to the outstretched hands which, from the wrist up, were covered in thick white down.

On Why Some Measure of Privacy is Still Salvageable

I received a huge surprise some months ago when I was invited to represent the IEEE Society on the Social Implications of Technology (IEEE SSIT) in Geneva at WSIS 2016.[1] This addendum is not a review of the panel session or of my general impressions of the overall meeting both of which were excellent.[2] I only wish to elaborate on two points which I had left unfinished given the time restrictions to do with our brief individual presentations. Afterwards in a more intimate gathering it was good to tease out some of the narrower implications of my summary during the course of that brisk afternoon.

I suggested privacy is not altogether dead, and some measure of it is still salvageable.[3] That we are for the greater part already known and quantified should be taken for granted, especially as regards to informational privacy.[4] That much is absolutely true. However, to completely surrender the privacy borders which are still in place is to give in to ‘Big Brother’ unconditionally and allow for depth-charged uberveillance to be introduced into our flesh for the purposes of constant monitoring, locating, and tracking.[5] Resistance is not futile when it comes to protecting whatever little of the privacy borders remain.[6] But even in the present environment we can still limit and protect our internet data flow. We can limit our use of social media, limit our use of mobile telephony, and make concerted efforts to protect our privacy by not giving in to pressures to release sensitive data or information of ourselves for the sake of rewards or convenience. Crucially, too, software design initiatives such as Privacy by Design (PbD), building privacy into the design specifications and architecture of systems and processes, should be strongly encouraged if not altogether mandated.[7]

WikiLeaks et al. and Snowden (XKS, PRISM) notwithstanding what is still left to fight for is the sacredness and inviolability of our inner space.[8] It is to stop any outside entity from introducing surveillance laboratories on the inside of our bodies.[9] Any unnecessary or unwarranted surveillance -“above and beyond”- will quickly erode human dignity, diminish our freedom, and curtail spontaneity which is the underlying force of imagination. My greatest fear is the universal numbering of human beings via implantables from cradle-to-grave and the use of such automated identification data warehouses in company-centric deposits and more so by totalitarian- and ostensibly democratic- regimes.[10]

During question time I was asked by a remote participant whether I believed uberveillance will happen, and what could we do to stop it.[11] To begin with RFID implants are not new, they are decades old. We have been implanting cats and dogs and cattle for years. In recent years it has become commonplace to find ICT devices in people for a variety of applications.[12] The discernible trajectory being the widespread adoption of embedded surveillance for value added services and [‘perceived’] total transparency. Small doubt uberveillance in one form or another will be realized. Whether this be initially on an opt-in basis and then ultimately so enmeshed in our day-to-day lives to become compulsory by necessity or enforced by political systems. When will it happen or how? I cannot give you the answer. I am not the prophet here. Others might well want to wonder with timelines and introduce apocalyptic rhetoric into the discussion. It is not necessary for the tell-tale narrative increasingly speaks for itself. Can we stop it? I do not know.[13] But what we can and must do, is to form cross national alliances at every level of our civic lives to make it as difficult as possible for governments or corporate conglomerates to force us (or to make us feel it necessary) to go down this shadowy path. It is for example a major obstacle when the UN and the EU have different comprehensions and policies on the protection and rights of privacy. Even individual states within sovereign nations have different privacy principles. We need a universal code of adhered ICT ethics. That is, accepted standards which will help determine our judgements when it comes to implantables along the lines of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.[14] I add here, as I stressed in Geneva, I believe in people power and have only little faith in institutions. Committed individuals can make a difference. Grassroots activism and protest are proven big game changers.

Implantables, of course in themselves are not the problem here, their beneficial use in medical science has been well documented. The problem rests with their blanket and undiscerning use in surveillance. We all need to be aware of function creep and to identify the wrongful uses and abuses of the various veillances in our daily lives. For instance, few would argue that such innovations as BrainGate [15] should be halted, but for the greater part we should ponder a world where such neural interface technologies are repurposed outside the application of the disabled toward every day human augmentation. This is indeed to trespass the last bastion of privacy, our deepest of thoughts, and that which means we remain free. For now we can and must safeguard what some scholars are referring to, and quite realistically too, as “meaningful privacy”.[16] If we should ever totally lose our privacy on which our rights and identity are so vitally dependent upon from top to bottom, it would be a singular catastrophe. Given such a scenario, there would be no comeback and no hope of a re-build even as there is after war.

I also spoke of these “exciting” times in which we live. My audience would have certainly had knowledge of the nuances and synonyms.




[4] See Roger Clarke, 1999, Introduction to Dataveillance and Information Privacy, and Definitions of Terms,

[5] See also, Christine Perakslis et al., “Evaluating border crossings in an interconnected world” IEEE Potentials, September/October, 2016, in press.


[7] Privacy by Design:

[8] Katina Michael and MG Michael, 2013, "No Limits to Watching?" Communications of the ACM, Vol. 56, Iss. 11, pp. 26-28. 




[12] Katina Michael and MG Michael, 2012, “Implementing Namebars Using Microchip Implants: The Blackbox Beneath the Skin”, Jeremy Pitt (Ed). This Pervasive Day: The Potential and Perils of Pervasive Computing, Imperial College Press, pp. 163-206:

[13] See Roger Clarke’s Keynote 2nd RNSA Workshop, What 'Überveillance' Is, and What To Do About It':

[14]  See Stefano Rodota and Rafael Capurro’s,  Ethical Aspects of ICT Implants in the Human Body (Opinion 20), 2005:;pgid=y8dIS7GUWMdSR0EAlMEUUsWb0000bHgL75Og;sid=fOh6iXL9ReR6niGOclfkLhDYezt8WtA-ALg=?FileName=KAAJ050203AC_002.pdf&SKU=KAAJ050203AC_PDF&CatalogueNumber=KA-AJ-05-020-3A-C

[15] BrainGate: Wired for Thought:

[16] See Christine Runnegar’s presentation: