|A few weeks ago, I wrote the following passage describing a bizarre dream I’d had the night before:
How about a very cheap, tiny camera that anyone can plant anywhere and broadcast wirelessly on the Internet to show the world what goes on in backrooms, in abusive homes, in factory farms, in old age homes and prisons and refugee camps and war zones and other places where atrocities depend on restricted access or closed doors and privacy. Not government controlled, but something anyone could buy at Radio Shack, or at least over the Internet. It would of course mean the end of privacy, but perhaps if the world could see what goes on in these places of horror they just wouldn’t tolerate the atrocities and would cede their privacy as a difficult but fair trade-off — to deter and drastically reduce human violence and crime everywhere.
Coincidentally, David Brin, exactly one week later, played devil’s advocate in Salon.com and said this wouldn’t be bad, for real. He wrote:
Every interest group will find some kind of opportunity in this new world. Want to protect forests? Each and every tree on earth might have a chip fired into its bark from the air, alerting a network if furtive loggers start transporting stolen hardwoods. Or the same method could track whoever steals your morning paper. Not long after this, teens and children will purchase rolls of ultra-cheap digital eyes and casually stick them onto walls. Millions of those “penny cams” will join in the fun, contributing to the vast IPv6 datasphere… In the short term, expanded powers of vision may embolden tyrants. But over the long run, these systems could help to empower citizens and enhance mutual trust.
His thesis is that once a technology becomes available and affordable, no amount of regulation or public opprobrium will prevent it from being used. So we might as well use ubiquitous video surveillance technology, too — just as government and corporations will use it for their purposes, legitimate and nefarious, we can use it to watch the watchers, and prevent them from getting too snoopy or too criminal.
Will such a world be better or worse? Does video ubiquity exempt us from the need, and the obligation, to trust each other, even those we love? Does it increase or decrease our security, and our decision-making ability? If you know that someone could be, will be, watching you and listening to you every moment, how will it change your behaviour? Will it make us paranoid and stressed-out, or more conscientious, responsible, self-conscious and diligent? And do you buy Brin’s thesis that such technology can’t and shouldn’t be stopped?