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« Fast Progress | Main | Experiments in Brazil »

January 29, 2005


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Tom Craver

Security types probably will object, but we need to draw a line - or maybe several lines - beyond which using inspection and analysis capabilities on a person require that permission be obtained in documented form (writing, on tape, etc). None of this "by walking into this nominally public place, you agree to let us strip search you or read your emotional state if we think we need to".

Private residences and office buildings closed to the public could reasonably go beyond the public line, but even there there should be some expectations of privacy. No cameras in the toilets. Maybe no access to employee emails except with a search warrant.

Brin's idea of the transparent society is a nice dream - but we all know that in reality, sensory technolgies are implemented as one-way glass - authorities see everything they want, while shielded from sight of citizens. Any attempt of citizens to use advanced sensory capabilities - such as radar detectors - are quickly squelched.

John B

If you discount cameras in any predictable place - say, the rest rooms - that's where your smart criminal will immediately set up shop.

And, thru an evolutionary process, those that don't handle the new scrutiny - either accidentally or deliberately - will be eliminated by the new police actions.

So - Wanna go buy drugs as you take a dump? *wry grin* How about a Tesla coil, gar-un-tee'd to fry any CCD cameras in a couple yards? ('Course, both could (would?) be illegal...)


Hal Finney

I don't agree that surveillance technologies are going to be "one way glass". Most of today's issues don't have anything to do with government surveillance. It's not the government who is bringing cell phone cameras into locker rooms. Within a few years, many people will want to carry A/V recording equipment with them all the time, to have a record of their lives. Then we'll have to hash out when they can be turned on or have to be turned off (and how we will verify that they're off). I think Brin foresaw something like this in his novel Earth, people carrying personal recording devices with them at all times, sort of like portable webcams.

The interesting social issues IMO are going to be how we as a society react to having detailed knowledge of public activities. Some effects will be good, like seeing who is commiting crimes, and being able to witness police arrests. Others will be more questionable, allowing for greater enforcement of victimless crimes. Buying drugs and visiting prostitutes will become relatively visible. So will legal but "immoral" activities like going to porn shops or engaging in sex affairs. Speeding and similar crimes which are seldom enforced today will be able to have 100% enforcement if we want.

These are big challenges. I don't see them as people vs government. Generally, people in Western democracies have the government they want. The issue is, how will society choose to use this power? What policies will lead to maximum social welfare? It's going to be an interesting time as we adjust.

Michael Vassar

More cynically, generally governments in recent centuries are able to arrange to have for the most part the kind of people they want, e.g. the kind who will allow the government officials to do what they want.


What if it was made possible for everyone to be able to take responsibility for their own surveillience? If the information on it can only be accessed by the person only, or the police in case the person goes missing. The person can erase any part of their recording but if something important is missing, ie a crime happened and evidence that the accused is innocent, then the person is in trouble. But, if there is a recording that the person is there, the information can be used to aquit the person of guilt. This way, it would make the system alot safer and within all human and civil rights.

Mike Treder, CRN

That's an interesting idea. It's got some similarities to Cascio's Participatory Panopticon (see http://tinyurl.com/cdute). The concept also was described in Robert J. Sawyer's Hominids-Humans-Hybrids trilogy.


The idea is that if you have nothing to hide, then you are innocent of any wrongdoing and that there would be evidence also. Also, only you can access it and delete certain parts, if you wish, and can only be accessed by other people if you are missing or dead. That is the main difference between my idea and that. And, what is Robert J. Sawyer's Hominids-Humans-Hybrids trilogy?

Mike Treder, CRN

The Sawyer trilogy is a pretty cool series about multiverse slippage. Through some accidental mechanism, a portal opens between our world and an alternate Earth where Neandertals developed civilization in place of Homo sapiens. In that other world, they have a system of ubiquitous recording with user rights very similar to what you described.

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