March 21, 2003
People Are Rushing To Embrace The Surveillance Society

MIT's Technology Review has an excellent article entitled Surveillance Nation.

It’s not all about Big Brother or Big Business, either. Widespread electronic scrutiny is usually denounced as a creation of political tyranny or corporate greed. But the rise of omnipresent surveillance will be driven as much by ordinary citizens’ understandable—even laudatory—desires for security, control, and comfort as by the imperatives of business and government. “Nanny cams,” global-positioning locators, police and home security networks, traffic jam monitors, medical-device radio-frequency tags, small-business webcams: the list of monitoring devices employed by and for average Americans is already long, and it will only become longer. Extensive surveillance, in short, is coming into being because people like and want it.

As surveillance systems become steadily cheaper and easier to use their use will skyrocket. Personal usage of surveillance systems will be just as extensive as government and corporate usage. For instance, I predict that within 10 or at most 20 years most houses will have cameras installed in them tied to the internet and sending out encrypted feeds so that their owners can look at what is happening in their houses when they are not home. Parents will embed surveillance systems into the cars they let their teenage kids drive so that the parents can know where the kids go, who rides with them, and whether the kids drive dangerously.

Imagine nanotech that allows instant testing for drug use. Governments and employers will not be the only users of cheap and miniaturized drug testing technology. It is easy to imagine a form of nanotech drug detector that can be unknowingly swallowed and absorbed into the body. Then when Mom gets suspicious that Junior is smoking pot she can give him a slice of cake that contains nanosensors and then Dad can secretly install a sensor on the front door that will interrogate the nanosensors every time Junior comes home.

Or how about nanosensors installed in the upholstery of a car that can detect marijuana or cigarette smoke or even beer fumes? Dad could check Junior's car by passing a small hand-held detector near it to interrogate its embedded sensors.

One way sensor usage may evolve at a personal level will be the sharing of sensor feeds among friends to allow people to organize into groups to help each other. For instance, imagine a group of people who are close friends letting each other watch the video feeds of their homes when they are not there. This could be done for security reasons or to track what their children are up to. If one person in the group has a job that gives her a lot of time to look at a video display then she could spend time watching what is going on in her own home and the homes of a few of her friends.

One can imagine neighborhood cooperation for detecting the movement of children. Every child could have embedded location detectors and many houses could have electronics for interrogating such detectors. Then a sharing of detector feeds could allow parents to detect whether their kids are still in the neighborhood. Automated software could even inform parents when their children are moving out of the area where they are allowed to roam.

Sharing of data feeds by government agencies, companies, and individuals will all lead to much greater scrutiny of the actions of individuals There are many causes of the greater sharing of data streams (e.g. detect fraud, detect terrorists, detect robbery attempts, detect bad credit risks, look for changing patterns of product demand). At the same time, the costs of collecting, sharing, and processing of data will all decline as the ease of sharing steadily increases.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 March 21 01:00 AM  Surveillance Society

Sione Vatu said at September 7, 2005 3:54 PM:

I guess this answers the question of who watches the man who watches the man who watches you. What sort of outfit do people want to live in? I recall a time when a neighbour decided he was going to visit Europe for six months. he went and did not bother to lock his house or even close the windows. When he returned the place was as he'd left it. No big deal in those days.

So where are we now? Trust no-one. Suspect all. Everyone is an enemy. A perfect surveillance society where tell tales and pimps rule. Of course crime will be even worse. Has any of the high tech crime fighting done any good? War on crime? War on drugs? And now War on Privacy...

A good quote to consider, "The rise of civilisation depends on the attainment of individual privacy."

D. Ollis said at August 15, 2009 6:46 PM:

With the passage of time the government assaults our liberties. The lawbreaking (i.e. the bill of rights) has become the rule, fear the means, power the end, and liberty and freedom the victims. The military industrial complex has taken over law enforcement thus turning the protector against the citizens. The only reason most people want these new technologies is because of the propaganda about the good, leaving the evils untold and so few knowing the truth! Another quote to consider "In any conflict between humanity and technology, humanity will win." Einstein

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