There seems to be no doubt that the genie is out of the bottle, never to be capped again. Individual privacy is being treaded upon daily by new technological devices that a mere generation ago were considered science fiction to be found only in novels such as George Orwell's "1984" and Aldous Huxley's "The Brave New World." However, today these stories of surveillance and cloning have become reality. In "The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?" David Brin examines how privacy as it was known a quarter of a century ago is gone forever and how citizens of the world have very tough decisions to make regarding how this new technology will be used and more importantly who will be in control.
Brin argues that the more open a society is the freer its citizens. This is after all the basic principles that democratic nations are founded upon. However, it is interesting to speculate whether Thomas Jefferson and George Washington would condone surveillance cameras on every street corner and in every public building, from local markets to government headquarters or airport scanning devices that project nude images of potential passengers to insure safety of the masses. According to Brin, freedom is not synomonous with privacy, but rather with control.
Now that the world's citizens are living in the midst of the worlds Orwell and Huxley imagined and penned decades ago, the fate of society and whether it will succumb to the novels' endings lies in responsibility according to Brin. In his book, he describes two twenty-first century cities. In City Number One, all surveillance devices are monitored only by law enforcement. For example, cameras report "urban scenes straight to Police Central, where security officers... scan for infractions against the public order... or... established way of thought...citizens...aware that any word or deed may be noted" by some mysterious bureau filled with agents who listen and watch every move of the city (Brin 4). In City Number Two, surveillance devices are used exactly as they are in City Number One, except for one major difference, the "devices do not report to the secret police...rather each and every citizen of this metropolis can lift his or her wristwatch/TV and call up images from any camera in town" (Brin 4).
Although crime is relatively non-existent in each city, Brin believes the quality of life for citizens is very different in each city.
Citizens of City Number One have no control or responsibility of their lives. They are watched and judged by a vague governmental agency that they know nothing about, nothing of its workings and dealings. However, those who live in City Number Two have full access to the same information that is only available to law enforcement in City Number One (Brin 4). City Number Two citizens have the advantage of checking to see if anyone "lurks beyond the corner" he or she "is about to turn" or whether a "dinner date still waits...by a city fountain" or whether one's teenager is still shopping at the mall (Brin 4). Moreover, in City Number Two, "micro cameras are banned from some indoor places but not Police Headquarters," meaning anyone has access to bookings and arraignments, thus, citizens can monitor those in power (Brin 4). According to Brin, it is a matter of control verses controlled and it is up to society to choose under which system it will live.
There is little debate as to whether security video cameras are responsible for decrease in crime or act as important aides in the war on crime. More than a decade ago, the city of King's Lynn in Britain installed sixty remote controlled video cameras to scan its notorious trouble spots and report to police headquarters (Brin 5). The project resulted in a reduction in street crime to "one seventieth of the former amount," with the equipment costs paid in full in a matter of months (Brin 5). Dozens of cities and towns have followed King's Lynn example, resulting in impressive statistics. There was a sixty-eight percent drop in crime citywide Glasgow, Scotland and in Newcastle, some 1,500 perpetrators were convicted with taped evidence, while more than a hundred and fifty faces from a soccer game rampage were published in local newspapers and identified in a matter of days (Brin 5). More than 250,000 cameras now scan the streets throughout the United Kingdom and most major metropolitan cities in the United States have street cams surveying everything from strolling pedestrians to vehicle traffic (Brin 5).
Furthermore, today video cameras that are roughly half the size of a pack of cigarettes can be bought by anyone. Nanny cams can be installed in anyone's home to monitor a child's care and the guardian's competency. Kindercams, now available in many upscale daycares, allow working parents as well as distant parents and grandparents to drop in any time on a child's daily care (Brin 6).
Yes, Orwell's society is here and it is alive and well. Several California police departments have "begun lacing neighborhoods with sound pickups that transmit directly back to headquarters" allowing officials to hear gunfire and immediately respond rather than waiting for 911 calls. Brin points out that while on the surface this may be seen as yet another breakthrough for law enforcement, there are many who believe that this technology will allow monitors to eavesdrop through open windows on personal conversations or activities (Brin 7). Then there is night vision goggles complete with military grade state-of- the-art infrared optics available to the public for less than the price of a video camera, allowing anyone, including the police to peer in houses, discriminate heat and follow an individual from room to room, making darkness no guarantee for privacy (Brin 7). Nor would a concrete wall allow privacy today, since minuscule remote video cameras can now fly silently undetected among trees tops to scan whatever is down below (Brin 7). In other words, one's home is no longer a sacred place, no longer off limits to prying eyes, no longer a sanctuary of privacy.
Moreover, personal lives are now being recorded in vast databases, including "habits, tastes and personal histories," such as grocery, video, pharmacy purchases as well as motel and car rentals, complete with date, time and mode of payment (Brin 8). Although corporations tout that all of this information simply helps them serve the public more efficiently, critics declare that it gives big business an "unfair advantage, knowing vastly more about us than we do about them" (Brin 8). However, Brin believes that no matter how many advocate groups join together and force through new privacy laws, "it will prove quite impossible to legislate away the new surveillance tools and databases" that abound today (Brin 9). Therefore, a transparent society may be the only weapon the public has against such technology. Brin states that the past is filled with societies that "suffered largely because openness and free speech were suppressed," leaving those in power without criticism and accountability (Brin 12). However, Brin is quick to point out that "whenever a conflict appears between privacy and accountability, people demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else," such as activist groups who demand access to government records searching for wrongdoings while others are concerned about the release of personal information contained in the same files (Brin 13).
There are no easy answers to the dilemmas facing modern societies. Brin discusses the fine line between City Number One and City Number Two. Citizens in City Number One are oblivious to the overhead police micro-cams recording every move and may even believe the government declaration that the cameras have been dismantled, thus, these citizens are unaware that…