London Police Want To Crowdsource Guilt-Free Surveillance
from the watching-over-you dept
One of the earliest proposals for mass surveillance was the Panopticon:
a type of institutional building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.
As the rest of the fascinating Wikipedia entry on the subject explains, Bentham never managed to build his Panopticon prison, despite being given relatively large sums of public money to do so. But his idea not only lives on, it has come ever closer to realization thanks to new technologies. Boing Boing points us to this latest approach, based around smartphones and crowdsourcing:
The design consists of a circular structure with an "inspection house" at its centre, from which the managers or staff of the institution are able to watch the inmates, who are stationed around the perimeter. Bentham conceived the basic plan as being equally applicable to hospitals, schools, poorhouses, daycares, and madhouses, but he devoted most of his efforts to developing a design for a Panopticon prison, and it is his prison which is most widely understood by the term.
The Metropolitan Police is hoping to use crowd-sourcing to identify people suspected of committing crimes in last year's riots in London.
What's particularly striking about this scheme is the scale:
Officers are to upload up to 2,800 CCTV images taken during the disorder in August on to its smartphone app.
"My hope is that the two-thirds of Londoners who own smartphones will download this app, and help us identify people we still need to speak to.
In the case of the London riots, the CCTV images may be relatively unequivocal about crimes being committed; but the new scheme is already being extended beyond those exceptional events:
We need Londoners to browse through the app every week or so as new images will appear regularly. This is a fantastic way for Londoners to help us to fight crime."
The app will also include a further 2,000 images of people wanted by the police for offences not connected to the riots.
That's worrying because there is no way of knowing what these people are accused of -- they might, for example, be involved in legitimate street protests against the UK government, or against multinational corporations in the UK, both of which have been subject to controversial policing in the capital. That seems a real possibility, given what Facewatch, the company behind the scheme's technology, says about its service:
An online crime reporting system for businesses to report crime providing the full evidential package required by the police
A way for businesses to deter crime by instantly sharing images of suspects between group members
All images from reported crimes are viewed by the police who will try to identify and match suspects using the information provided.
This raises the prospect not only of deterring crime, but of deterring protests, since participating companies will be able to pass photos of protesters who are alleged to have committed criminal acts to the police, who can then add the faces to all the others on their smartphone app. Londoners can then help identify them without concerning themselves about the legitimacy of the requests, since they will just be part of the constantly-updated stream of alleged criminals. Jeremy Bentham would have been proud of such an efficient, anonymous system of control.