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You are being watched -- is that OK?

On the TV series “Person of Interest,” Michael Emerson plays a scientist who, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, created “The Machine,” a super-powerful computer that sifts through mountains of data recorded by surveillance cameras. In the “Fourth Realm” series of novels, John Twelve Hawks writes of “the surveillant society,” a “virtual panopticon” where people may not know whether they're being watched at any given moment, but they know they could be.

But these scenarios are increasingly less likely to be fictional. Writes Ross Andersen in The Atlantic:

“The New Aesthetic isn't just a cool art project; machines really are watching us, and they have their own way of seeing; they make mistakes that humans don't. Before automated surveillance reaches a critical mass, we are going to have to think carefully about whether we think its security benefits are worth the human costs it imposes. The ethical issues go beyond just video; think about data surveillance, about algorithms that can mine your financial history or your Internet searches for patterns that may infer that you are an aspiring terrorist. You'd want to be sure that a technology like that was accurate.”

He goes on to describe a similar situation in Britain, where there already is everpresent electronic surveillance. But, he writes, “British philosophers are starting to gaze back at the CCTV cameras watching them, and they're starting to demand that those cameras justify their existence.”

A new paper called The Unblinking Eye: The Ethics of Automating Surveillance argues for a minimalist approach to surveillance.

What do you think? Is electronic surveillance necessary for security, or an unwarranted and dangerous intrusion? Or something else? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Posted by Michael Hardy on Jun 14, 2012 at 12:18 PM

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Reader comments

Fri, Jun 15, 2012 earth

Playing the devils advocate: Anyone who lived through the sixties remembers the justice system being used to target African Americans, Native Americans, non KKK’s in the rural south etc. Want to skew the elections, arrest members of the group that opposes you so their voting rights are taken away. Want to prosper off a prison population, use the justice system to populate the jails. (Present day California anyone?) Have a LEO or DA bucking for promotion and no one is safe. The justice system is an autoimmune disease waiting to happen. So if you take the “if you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about” stance you are danger to your community. Stick your head in the sand and someone will screw you in the backside.

The phrase “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance” meant the people should be ever vigilant to the abuse of power by their government. Not the other way around. And yet the number of states with a record of arresting and harming people that use their camera phones to record the police is high. If the justice system is doing nothing wrong, then they have nothing to worry about from public oversight. Right?

So the first place this should be implemented is in government offices.

Fri, Jun 15, 2012

If you are in public surrounded by dozens to thousands of people, then you should have no problem being under watch. However, a private setting should mean and stay private. If the British are just "starting to demand that those cameras justify their existence”, they must be a bit slow. Those things cost taxpayer money and they better be doing something positive to justify their expense. One would hope that their presence alone would reduce crime. We also know that they were instrumental in identifying those train bombers years ago. As such, they appear to be a good investment. As long as surveillance cameras stay in the public and the costs are kept below the benefits, I say they are a great asset to society. However, I am sure that the criminal element and those who sympathize with many of these criminals will have an objection.

Fri, Jun 15, 2012

Un-American, unwarranted, and dangerous.

Fri, Jun 15, 2012 earth

Anything that can be used to abuse others WILL be used to abuse others. No person put into the position of watching others and making decisions about them is done so without an agenda someone is willing to pay for, particularly if they can get someone else to pay for it. (the tax payer your grandchildren may eventually become for instance.)

Our founding fathers knew this well but we have forgotten all the lesions they learned the hard way and have now become what they fought against.

Who watches the watchers? There is an ultimate watcher and judge with ultimate competence over the affairs of beast and bear. Those competent in watching their own minds know how much and how little springs from their own soul. This life is an operational acceptance test and the positive, active golden rule is an outer qualification boundary.

Study the dream and warnings in Zachariah 5 and see if it does not explain what is happening to the West as they support the taking of the Palestinians land without their permission. If the UN can vote to take their land away it can vote to give it back but without redress of grievances the bean will continue to rot away along with your security not to be abused by your own government.

Fri, Jun 15, 2012

"ELECTRIC EYE" BY Judas Priest circa 1985.... Up here in space
I'm looking down on you.
My lasers trace
Everything you do.
You think you've private lives
Think nothing of the kind.
There is no true escape
I'm watching all the time.
I'm made of metal
My circuits gleam.
I am perpetual
I keep the country clean.
I'm elected electric spy
I'm protected electric eye.
Always in focus
You can't feel my stare.
I zoom into you
You don't know I'm there.
I take a pride in probing all your secret moves
My tearless retina takes pictures that can prove.
I'm made of metal
My circuits gleam.
I am perpetual
I keep the country clean.
I'm elected electric spy
I'm protected electric eye.
Electric eye, in the sky
Feel my stare, always there
There's nothing you can do about it.
Develop and expose
I feed upon your every thought
And so my power grows.
I'm made of metal
My circuits gleam.
I am perpetual
I keep the country clean.
I'm elected electric spy
I'm protected electric eye.
I'm elected electric spy
I'm elected. Protected. Detective. Electric eye.

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