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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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