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A camera on every corner

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Sean Black's picture

Like any self-respecting journalist-to-be, I am of the opinion that privacy is important. I mean, what kind of grade could you hope to get, saying otherwise? But what if you were mugged? What if you were stabbed or held at gunpoint? You would want some justice. So what if, within minutes, the police could identify the criminal? Or, for example, catch the men who placed the bomb at the Boston marathon last year. Would you be so anti-Orwellian then? 

Security or privacy?
 

Last week I wrote a post about Google Glass and the potential privacy issues that pervades its existence. Therein, crucial questions were raised about the lifespan and relevance of privacy in the digital age. Can privacy survive? Will we end up in a state where “1984” is used as an instruction manual? This post will continue along that trajectory, but continuing on a more general route; focusing in particular on CCTV surveillance.

It is impossible to stop the progression of technology, that much is certain, but many don’t realise the pace at which technological advancement is moving. It is so fast that it has become impossible for cultural adaption to keep up with technology and because of that there are always speed bumps when new media/tech is introduced; like the camera of the 19th century or Google Glass of the 21st.
 
Who cares? 
 
So what of privacy? Will the general public’s view of privacy morph? In the future, will issues like the government watching your email (via The Economist) be as common as taking a photograph on the beach? It seems a likely possibility. Most people don’t realise the amount of personal data that is collected and stored already. I was told of a man, from South Africa, who applied for a visa to the United States and was denied because he was determined to be a communist, and thus a terrorist. The reason? He fought alongside the anti-apartheid ANC in the 1980s/90s, which was dubbed a communist faction by government. That misinformation was stored about him and clung to him, even 20 years later.
 
It seems that an increased acceptance of government watching and surveillance is inevitable. A fish doesn’t know that it is in water; because it doesn’t know anything else. Similarly, the next generation may never question their privacy being violated because they will know no different. They will know nothing other than having a smartphone, being connected online, and sharing their information (knowingly or otherwise) with the world. Cultural adaption will eventually catch up.
 
There is, however, another potential outcome. All of the light that is being shed on government surveillance (be it because of the NSA, CCTV cameras, or drones) could create a society that is hyper-aware of sharing personal information online. The next generation will potentially look back at what we shared online and ask: ‘why on earth would you publish that, dad?’, ‘What were you thinking?’ All of which is essentially thanks to Edward Snowden
 
Safety vs. privacy
 
Think about Google’s recently updated terms of service. In there it explicitly states: “Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.” So Google is already collecting information from your emails.
 
But I mean is that really such a bad thing (via Slate Voice)? Look at England, where the latest survey estimates that there are approximately 5 million CCTV cameras; the equivalent of roughly one camera for every 11 people. Literally ‘a camera on every corner.’ The footage from those CCTV cameras are said to have been used for evidence, by Scotland Yard, in 95% of 2013s murder cases. However, I would still say yes, that is a bad thing. One camera in every 11 people is disturbing because it showcases vividly the extent of the voyeuristic, surveillance culture we have become a part of.
 
 

 
And what it is so often put down to is "safety vs. privacy": which would you rather have? Would you rather feel safe in your home and give up some rights to privacy or be in danger of potential 'terrorist threats'. This ultimatum is manipulative. Essentially saying either do what we say or be blown up by terrorists. And maybe it’s just me, but exploiting the fear that people have for ‘terrorists’ and terrorism, so that they assimilate with the surveillance culture, leaves a bad aftertaste.
 
1985 - what next?
 
A middle ground (via The World) needs to be found. Some headway has been made to reach that point; the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) released, in February 2014, a code of practice and guidance for CCTV surveillance systems. Cultural adaption will not allow excessive personal surveillance, there will not be a society of drones who do not care for their privacy. There are limits to what people are willing to have known about them. But you will also find that people are willing to make certain sacrifices for safety (or the perception of safety). 
 
What is worrying, however, is that this data collection has been happening for years, if not decades. But nobody cared because “what you don’t know…” right? Where is the happy medium? Is there even a happy medium? What is more important to you? Safety or privacy.
 


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