Beware The Seductive Power Of Surveillance

from the once-it-starts... dept

Jessie Hirsh has a great blog post about the seductive power of surveillance, covering how surveillance systems put in place with limitations and for the best of intentions almost always get abused, as it just becomes too tempting to use them to a much greater level. The example he discusses, of course, is the recent webcam scandal involving a school that used webcam images of a student at home in a disciplinary action. In that case, the “surveillance” was intended for recovering lost or stolen laptops only, but the mandate was allegedly “expanded” when an image taken (supposedly because a “loaner” laptop had been taken off campus) also showed the student eating candy that the school administrators thought were drugs.

Hirsh also points out that, beyond the temptation to just expand what’s monitored, being able to watch over someone just has it’s own (potentially dangerous) addictive quality as well — by noting “the intoxication people feel from being the watcher.” That also, I believe, is a part of the reason why law enforcement is always so keen on increasing surveillance efforts. It’s just incredibly powerful to be able to watch over others.

It’s definitely something that needs to be thought about carefully, as we become an increasingly watched society. But how do you deal with it? Hirsh brings up the idea — proposed many times before — of being able to watch the watchers or even to open up the surveillance process to the public to have them help out. This horrifies some people, but it’s at least something that people need to think about. Greater amounts of surveillance in society aren’t likely to go away any time soon — so recognizing the risks associated with it and coming up with unique and innovative solutions to deal with (or minimize) those risks makes sense.

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Comments on “Beware The Seductive Power Of Surveillance”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Google

and seriously, how is Google even relevant to the discussion? In the case of Google they are not forcing anyone to put cameras anywhere. You just hate Google because they provide something good for society and you can’t tolerate that. You feel entitled to a monopoly on everything. You feel entitled to high search results. You feel entitled to what they have. You’re not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Google

Also, if you’re referring to Youtube, that’s almost like watching television. In that same sense, when you watch television the people being watched are under “surveillance.” I think we need to note the difference between those who want others to watch them during certain times (ie: when putting themselves on youtube or making a movie) and a camera that attempts to capture peoples ordinary everyday lives.

h310ise says:

Re: Google

yes you have it! the (only?) way to deal with surveillance is to open it so the watched are the watchers. Mandatory public access to all security cameras. If everyone has the same information, it doesn’t completely devalue it but it does make it nearly impossible to use unilaterally. it destroys the power dynamic inherent to which side of the camera you’re on. or at least damages it severely.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Greater amounts of surveillance in society aren’t likely to go away any time soon”

What about red light cameras? I want those to go away. If anything they cause more accidents than they prevent or at the very least they cause the worst kinds of accidents, where people are potentially hit into intersections by the cars behind them.

ECA (profile) says:

I find it interesting..

I have setup security systems with cameras…
IF you ask me, I will send you to a few locations..
But its funny to me what a person can do with a few Hundred dollars… OVER what the STATE can do..
for under $500 I can setup a system with 8-16 cams and protect everything…
The state cant..
Under $1500, I can use HIGH range gear that has FOCUS/TILT/ZOOM…
They cant…
Under $2500-3000 I an do 16 cams, and do it all…
they cant.

Anonymous Coward says:


That also, I believe, is a part of the reason why law enforcement is always so keen on increasing surveillance efforts. It’s just incredibly powerful to be able to watch over others.

The reason most cops become cops in the first place is because they’re power junkies. Of course they’re going to want cameras! (in your home, not theirs)

Anonymous Coward says:

Surveillance will be ubiquitous there is no escaping that unless you want to live on an island.

The trick is how do we manage this?

I think h310ise is on to something, open access is key for check and balances, it will ultimatily lead to the lowest denominator for what it is acceptable to survey or use in court.

The law will have to change to include to deal with gray areas, nothing will be black and white, if someone can see everything others do, he will be able to find ways to coerce others if the law is to strict.

In certain ways I do believe this is an evolutionary step for society as a whole. Do I like it? No but I’m very aware that it will happen, everything will be integrate and will dispense some form of feedback and people will be able to infer behaviour through it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If we are to have cameras everywhere, open access is a good thing because it holds those doing the surveillance to the same standard as those subject to surveillance. In other words, laws would have to be applied fairly to everyone which will encourage everyone to have fair laws. Still, in reality it will never actually work this way, this is only hypothetical speculation of how it ought to work only in the event that we decide to adopt tons of surveillance everywhere.

Leefe (user link) says:

Sounds like a great TV show idea...

I can see this making a great set of cable TV channels. Couch potatoes can sit at home and monitor the world for you. They call the number on screen or use their remote to report incidents, and win prizes.

A win/win/win situation. Appease the masses with TV, increase the eyes on security, and generate extra revenue for the security division.

The new reality TV. (Just like ‘Series 7’.)

Overcast (profile) says:

I believe it’s called voyeurism. And granted, there is gonna be a small voyeur in each and everyone of us that makes us feel that heady rush of knowing that we’re watching someone else act life in real time, knowing that we’re not watching a script but something else entirely true.

But if someone knows they are being watched, it’s always a bit ‘different’.

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