I remember years ago when Scott McNealy was still CEO of SUN Microsystems, he was speaking at some large industry conference. At the time we were starting to see the fruits of video surveillance technology, people were getting a little worried. Big brother was here and people did not like it, especially if you had just got a “photo” ticket in the mail. In front of a large audience Scott’s comment regarding video surveillance technology was to everyone, who was concerned, “Get over it”. It’s always nice to be scolded by a keynote speaker. Scott was not really known as a touchy feely kind of guy. For that matter most corporate executives are not. However his comment did speak to the nature of technology in that once the train leaves the station progress is hard to stop. It takes on a life of its own and the rest of the world is left trying to catch up. Video surveillance has only grown since those comments were made raising the question, “where are the boundaries”?
The borders are becoming increasingly blurred even as video becomes more pervasive in our day-to-day lives. This is something I pulled off of the Yale – New Haven Teachers Institute sight, written by Angelo J. Pompano, but it does a clear job of illustrating a point:
No, this is not your father’s Candid Camera. Privacy in the Age of Video Surveillance is a serious concern. With the proliferation of video surveillance equipment in every conceivable situation of our daily lives, concealed video cameras are not a source of amusement as on the old Candid Camera television show, but a real restriction on our right to privacy. Consider a hypothetical, but possibly typical day: you wake up and walk out to your mailbox. A neighbor’s private security camera is trained on his driveway across the street and picks you up. Later, you drive to work and when you get to the light on the corner, a video camera is watching to see if you went through red. You stop off at an ATM and you are taped. You go into the 7 Eleven-taped; pump gas- taped; get on the interstate and the traffic control cameras are focused on you. You get to work and the camera in the parking lot follows you into the building. Then you finally get you your desk and once more you are monitored. Let’s not even consider the possibility of hanging out at the water cooler or going into the bathroom. It’s only 8:15 AM and you have already had more TV exposure than Regis Philbin. You begin to think that maybe you shouldn’t have worn that plaid tie with the checkered shirt.
This example is current. It exists today. We bask in watching reality TV shows when in actuality we are already living it. We just fail to notice or simply do not care. Thinking our lives dull. However everywhere we go we are being watched. And not just in real-time. The video content is stored so if we need to, we can access later. As time goes by more and more of our lives will be caught on video, until the point we can stitch them all together to create a complete view of our life, however interesting or boring it may be.
This does raise concerns, and in today’s world when we have concerns it is usually a question of how it is defined in our legal systems. When my life is in the public domain what rights do I have to say what can be viewed and what cannot? Can someone take some of eth embarrassing clips of me and post to Twitter or on YouTube? Many states have laws erected around hidden cameras and surveillance cameras. More interesting may be that many states do not. Video Surveillance is being discussed at both state and federal levels with arguments on both sides. Employers would argue that video surveillance can be used most anywhere on corporate campuses (yes..including locker rooms and bathrooms). The one that so far has been determined off-limits is intrusion into people’s private homes. However it is apparent that the boarders of video surveillance are expanding not contracting. Beyond places of business it has morphed into our daily lives. It may be just the video app on your iPhone, but that in and of itself is a new form of surveillance. When we got our iPad at home I was amazed at my young boys ability to quickly find and create home video’s with the iPad. It seems video technology, like it or not is everywhere. We may not be able to depend on our governments to regulate because to do so will require us to regulate individuals. Can government keep up with the fast pace of technological change?
When we think of technology it is an industry that never sleeps. An industry built on dreams, of dreaming a brighter and better future for mankind. Of course it is odd, to me, that these technological advancements often happen in our military establishment. Things that we associate with military advancement make their way back to domestic products. That is what makes this area very difficult for lawmakers as congress does not work as fast as technology. When they have get involved it is not clear if they had a positive impact (The Microsoft DOJ comes to mind). When I think of video and where it is today and where it could be in five to ten years it is pretty daunting. In a commercial today for healthcare they actor talks about swallowing a pill that has a camera that can capture and send video of your internal systems. That is pretty useful and amazing. What if the military could create a robotic fly or mosquito that had a camera? That would be pretty cool for military intelligence?
Today when you look at directions via Google Maps the level of detail you can drill down to is pretty specific. I can see my house, my lawn etc..But these are still just photographs. However the question is how long before I can actually see activity going on around my house? I have seen numerous demos that show 3-dimensional views of a city, what would the natural evolution of this be? How long before it captures me leaving the house for work or to walk the kids to school? How zoomed in will the view be? Will the camera view capture a smile or a frown on my face? Who will be watching me? Today when police arrest someone who may have stolen a TV from a home, they can view in detail where the person has been by viewing the recent log files of Google Maps, to show where the suspect has been recently. This could be a boon for couples where one suspects the other of cheating…just a thought.
In the end how far will all this go? All you have to do is imagine. In the end reality TV is going to die because we will all be on it 24 by 7. Will we enter Orwell’s, “1984”? Or maybe Suzanne Collin’s “The Hunger Games”. We may have to, for I fear when we are all on video ,the reality will be that many of us will not be worth prime time viewing. Will we need social security cards anymore when we can in real-time pull up fingerprints, or maybe more realistically swipe our thumb and have it cross referenced with some centralized (and distributed) master database? What about a PIN for your ATM? That brings some gruesome mobster kind of thought when your thumb is a valuable piece of information. As has been pointed out there will be many benefits but at the same time we always have to weigh in with at what cost? In today’s world we are great at figuring out the financial costs, but we seem to have lost sight of the social costs. But then who needs to see what’s on mans mind since we seem to think we know everyone when they are on video.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 19, 2012