The "Citizen Virtual Patrol" is here
June 10, 2018 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Newark, New Jersey has surveillance cameras everywhere, but unlike most, these are open for public viewing.
posted by Slinga (18 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Who read chapter one of The Transparent Society (1998) and thought it was a good idea?

As Bruce Schneier explained long ago, unequal power relationships cause exponential changes in the value gained from information; transparency doesn't work because ubiquitous surveillance always, in aggregate, benefits the powerful more:
You cannot evaluate the value of privacy and disclosure unless you account for the relative power levels of the discloser and the disclosee.

If I disclose information to you, your power with respect to me increases. One way to address this power imbalance is for you to similarly disclose information to me. We both have less privacy, but the balance of power is maintained. But this mechanism fails utterly if you and I have different power levels to begin with.

An example will make this clearer. You're stopped by a police officer, who demands to see identification. Divulging your identity will give the officer enormous power over you: He or she can search police databases using the information on your ID; he or she can create a police record attached to your name; he or she can put you on this or that secret terrorist watch list. Asking to see the officer's ID in return gives you no comparable power over him or her. The power imbalance is too great, and mutual disclosure does not make it OK.

You can think of your existing power as the exponent in an equation that determines the value, to you, of more information. The more power you have, the more additional power you derive from the new data.

Another example: When your doctor says "take off your clothes," it makes no sense for you to say, "You first, doc." The two of you are not engaging in an interaction of equals.
posted by zachlipton at 11:25 AM on June 10, 2018 [20 favorites]

Newark is even a finalist in Amazon’s prolonged municipal pageant to find a base for its second headquarters.
Officials say the cameras do not have facial recognition technology or the ability to track specific individuals or vehicles.

Not yet. Unfortunately, we seem to be hurtling on a trajectory where facial recognition technology (with its flaws and biases) is employed by more and more governmental and private organisations.
posted by cynical pinnacle at 11:36 AM on June 10, 2018

thanks for posting that Brin bit, zachlipton...I knew I'd seen it somewhere here before, but couldn't find it. It's definitely a good time to revisit the issue.
posted by es_de_bah at 11:42 AM on June 10, 2018

Red truck!
posted by glonous keming at 11:42 AM on June 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Officials say the cameras do not have facial recognition technology or the ability to track specific individuals or vehicles.

Key word there: “Cameras.” The cameras wouldn’t need to have that technology (do such cameras even exist?) if their feeds were going into a computer that did. You know, kinda like how that actually works?

You know what often does have built-in facial recognition technology, though? The human brain. This includes the human brains of stalkers, burglars, vigilantes, rival gangs, school bullies, etc., who might be interested in knowing where a particular person is at a particular time. I’m mostly cool with feeds of commercial areas being available to the public, particularly if the business owners give the O.K., but public feeds of residential areas seems like nothing but a terrible idea. In high crime residential areas, by all means put up a camera for evidence-gathering, but the public good is not served by making that feed available to every creep in the world.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:10 PM on June 10, 2018 [11 favorites]

Yeah, at least with public voter registration records, you typically have the option of petitioning for a hidden/fake address if you have a stalker or whatever. What are you going to do with public camera feeds? Preemptively submit your photo ala Facebook's "send us ur nudes and we'll block them"?
posted by inconstant at 2:04 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe this is why so many people in the Star Wars universe wear helmets all the time.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:07 PM on June 10, 2018 [13 favorites]

thanks for posting that Brin bit, zachlipton

Seriously, I immediately thought of that book. Followed by, "ugh."
posted by Chrysostom at 2:17 PM on June 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Little Brother is watching you!!!
posted by Burn_IT at 2:39 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thing is, Brin is 100% correct. The cameras WILL be there. That's inevitable.

Therefore the only question is who has access to them? A tiny self selected elite group or everyone?

I'd rather not have a panopticon at all but since that isn't an option I'd rather have one I can access too.
posted by sotonohito at 3:31 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Asking to see the officer's ID in return gives you no comparable power over him or her.

This is not an accurate framing of the situation here. The officer is merely an agent of state power. Therein lies the true asymmetrical power relationship.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:51 PM on June 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

> Burn_IT:
"Little Brothers is are watching you!!!"

posted by Samizdata at 4:01 PM on June 10, 2018

making this public means giving it to corporations for free and without restrictions. Can the government be trusted to follow its own rules and have this power - barely or hardly. Can Uber or Carlyle Group or Cambridge Analytica be tru--- hell, why even finish the joke. A constitutional right to privacy should be a freedom from having to be in a pan-opticon, but i guess getting to watch is better than only being a prisoner. :(
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 6:50 PM on June 10, 2018

The funny thing is, crime can only happen in the shadows...
It strikes me, if you could trust the powers that be to use surveillance to inhibit criminal behavior by reducing the places where crime can happen unobserved, and not abuse it to its own ends, then surveillance might be a fair trade-off of security for privacy.
Except you can't trust this gov't not to run with the osm all-seeing power of surveillance. That was Snowden's message. So the discussion got quickly re-framed singularly on the loss of privacy, all the while the gov't's credibility deficit remains the 800 lb gorilla in the foyer no that one wants to acknowledge.
Seems like maybe Newark gets that.
posted by Fupped Duck at 8:41 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think the current administration is clear proof that crime can happen right in plain sight.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:51 PM on June 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

ugh, the dream of the Meddlesome Ratbag
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 1:43 AM on June 11, 2018

The idea has many parents, but one of my favorites is Neil Stephenson's "Global Neighborhood Watch" which I thought of when the Newark thing started getting reported.
posted by owalt1 at 4:32 PM on June 11, 2018

Prediction: There will be a subreddit created that is devouted to posting surveillance camera photos of underaged girls in their summer clothes.

I hate this timeline.
posted by AlSweigart at 8:03 PM on June 11, 2018

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