In a previous blog I talked about some possible benefits that could come from a reduction of privacy on the internet. By removing the anonymous usernames and requiring everyone use their name I believe that interactions would drastically change in a positive manner. This made me wonder if people would change their actions in a similar way offline, if their privacy in public wasn’t so private. With cameras on every smartphone, our actions can already be captured at any moment. Technology like GoogleGlass will make surveillance even easier since the camera is already out and ready to capture a moment. Then add in cameras that are setup by private or government organizations and we are being watched more often than not.
My first reaction to all this surveillance is to resist it, to fight for my privacy. Hearing arguments that say if I have nothing to hide I shouldn’t have anything to worry about, only make me dislike it more. If I’m not doing anything wrong why am I being watched? When the NSA scandal hit not too long ago, everyone was shocked and upset about being monitored. This isn’t really that new of a concept though. Some areas in our country already have video cameras in public places to monitor high crime areas, read and process license plates, all setup and monitored by the government. In addition to the government cameras, many private organizations have surveillance networks of their own. Stores, and businesses have had cameras for years but nobody complains about them watching us. They do this to dissuade people from behaving in certain ways. If you know you’re being watched and can be identified, you are less likely to try to steal something from a store for example. So in this way, less privacy has a positive impact overall. Now let’s expand this surveillance through cell phone cameras to streets, parks, anywhere that people are. Would we see a reduction in crime rates because the chances of criminals being caught in the act are higher? Or would we simply see a change in the types of crimes committed? To an extent I think we’re already seeing crime adapting. To steal someone’s credit card you don’t exactly need to snatch a purse anymore. With RFID chips you can scan the information off the card just by passing by someone. Even with cameras watching it would be pretty hard to detect this type of crime.
Now I’m not saying we setup cameras everywhere, because I still do want privacy in public places, but I do think that we’re already seeing this sense of privacy change. We’ve always been observed by our peers in public, what is changing is that now it’s becoming easier to go from observing to recording. Cameras are becoming smaller and more discrete, allowing for someone to capture an embarrassing moment without you even knowing. When a private organization records you, it’s usually to monitor activity to ensure there aren’t break-ins or thefts. When a peer in public takes a picture or recording, it’ll probably end up on the internet where the whole world can see it. Now this could be both good and bad. Maybe you trip over and someone now has a picture of it online. Not the end of the world, but still not something you want captured and shared. However, maybe you’re wearing GoogleGlass while driving and capture someone swerving in an out of traffic. Now you have a video identifying their license plate and behavior, which you can send to the authorities. If everyone has the capability to capture moments like that, people will begin to act differently. Maybe drivers will be more conscious of their road-rage if they know it’s being watched.
This change in public privacy is happening. I’m very interested to see how we adjust as a society to the increased social accountability that will come with everything we do. It will also be interesting to see what people to do preserve their privacy in places that are private, but are now increasingly public.