Thursday, June 23, 2011

Your Kid Brother is Watching You

I have a lot of concerns about Big Brother watching us through our ever accelerating technology, into which we pour our entire lives.  Even those who eschew Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (?? I don't know) and other social media must take extreme measures to truly get off the grid and out from under the eyeballs of various watchers - phones bounce off cell towers, credit and debit cards provide a map of our purchases, toll transponders note when we pass through on our way to wherever, surveillance cameras abound, electric bills lead to your home.  This all makes it ever easier for the government - or whoever - to keep tabs on us. 
However, it has also made us more willing to rat each other out, which may be the worst aspect of this rise of technological surveillance.  The Harvard Business Review just posted an article about people in Vancouver gleefully reporting their fellow Vancouverians via social media during the riots that followed Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  The police, not being idiots, and recently having some trouble with not being douchebags up in the True North, seem to be concerned primarily with the volume of reports coming in.  It's a little tough, because on the one hand, you shouldn't get up to criminal mischief and set your city on fire.  That's pretty clear.  It's dangerous and it's jerky.  However, it doesn't sit well with me for the police to be able to go back to a mob scene and pick and choose the people they want to prosecute.  Even if they see criminal activity, it seems like a fishing expedition. 

I think the thing that I find upsetting is the tendency towards wanting to rat each other out, and that this surveillance eliminates our ability to resolve things without the force of law.  David Brin had a nice post the other day about the idiocy of police whining about being videotaped, in which he said he failed to understand why good cops would need privacy to do their public jobs.  I think he only gets half of the problem, because the surveillance knife cuts both ways.  On the one hand, surveillance via cell phone, etc., can protect citizens against what unfortunately is a massive law enforcement population which includes some bad cops and some bad, prejudicial operational policy.  On the other, it leads to the kind of finking that is visible in the Vancouver article, and it also - and this is more important - removes the possibility of good cops stepping in to mediate conflicts and resolve them without arrests, which is what ties police to the community and fosters cooperation and good relationships.  Bad cops remove this option by creating a paranoia within the public that prompts them to film every police interaction, because if a good cop is filmed trying to help someone without following the letter of the law, there's a chance that the good cop's job could wind up at risk because politicians and pearl-clutching citizens are jerkfaces.

We're all in this together.  No matter what, we won't be living in individual bubbles of self-sufficiency any time soon.  To live together well, we need to drop our willingness to rat each other out for every little thing, and work to resolve all we can without the blunt instrument of the law.  Don't worry so much about arresting rioters who are acting foolishly - focus on making sure those who were causing actual damage and injury are prosecuted and on getting the drunken idiot brigade home and off the streets...and then let it go.  Don't get vindictive, don't persecute people for acting the fool, just let it go.  Stop ratting out your neighbors, even if it's as easy as checking your Twitter feed.

1 comment:

  1. I don't quite agree: I've seen videos of police doing very wrong things, and what strikes me is my confidence that the police do not do just things before I watched the videos. Before I saw them, I wouldn't have wanted to look, and I wouldn't have cared to stop such videotaping from becoming illegal, because I didn't know how important it was.

    People who avoid ratting other out of responsibility results in the same problem. It's not the loss of responsibility that's scary: we can monitor the consequences of it to prevent that from going too far, but when we stop ratting others out, we lose our knowledge of how much bad things humans do. When we no longer know our darker side, we'll no longer know the importance of keeping track of it, and it will be like me not watching the videos of police brutality and therefore not knowing... ultimately not caring when they get banned.