Monday, January 07, 2008

Watching the Watchers: Why Surveillance Is a Two-Way Street

An article from Popular Mechanics looks at how the recent boom in video monitoring—by both the state and businesses—means we're all being watched. Glenn Harlan Reynolds writes that:

It's like something out of George Orwell's 1984. Except that, unlike Orwell's protagonist Winston Smith, we can watch back—and plenty of people are doing just that. Which makes a difference.

The widespread installation of recording devices is not all bad: ATM cameras helped prove that Duke students accused of rape couldn't have committed the crime. And we all sympathize with the goals of preventing terrorism and crime, though it is not proven that security cameras accomplish this.

Nonetheless, the trend toward constant surveillance is troubling. And even if the public became concerned enough to pass laws limiting the practice, it's not clear how well those laws would work. Government officials and private companies too often ignore privacy laws. (In a notorious recent case, Hewlett-Packard executives were caught spying on the phone records of reporters covering the company.) Besides, the technology of surveillance is becoming so advanced—biologists are now attaching tiny cameras to crows' tail feathers to observe the birds' tool use in the wild—that in reality there's not much we can do to ensure privacy anyway. Maybe that doesn't matter. Privacy is a recent phenom­enon. For most of human history, people lived in small tribes or villages where everyone knew everyone else's business. Ubiquitous surveillance may be just a case of the past as prologue.

Read in full - 'Watching the Watchers: Why Surveillance Is a Two-Way Street'

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