Watching Them Watching You

Image: Flickr /   funkandjazz

Image: Flickr / funkandjazz

At the end of last week I wrote a short piece for Quartz that looked at how the tragic Boston bombings altered public sentiment about surveillance technology in the moment. The article commented on how, in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, there was clamor for technology to sift through the enormous volume of images that had been collected from public, private and citizen sources to quickly ID the culprits. The dominant sentiment for those few days between Monday's attack and Thursday's isolation of the two suspects seemed to be "surely they can scan the faces and find these people!" In the face of crisis and vulnerability, our crutch was technology. In the end, humans brought about the denouement—from the suspects' own panicked sprint  to a local resident's notice that something was amiss in his own back yard. Expectations about what is possible, set by the media, technology companies, and the public's own sense that "they must have the tools," outran reality. 

Interestingly, as things have cooled down in the past few days, the implications of a smart camera-filled country have started to settle on the public discourse. Recognition that, like in Clapham after the UK riots, local residents, private resources and citizen input were able to provide much of what was needed to resolve the situation locally has slowed the call for heavier tech and security—the most notable exception being continued calls by those who sell and have elections funded by their sales. Watch this space, as the debate between surveillance and sousveillance has a long way yet to go.

On a lighter topic, I also wrote about how major Internet players—the Stacks, as Bruce Sterling calls them—are becoming increasingly closed and aggressive about protecting their turf. Check it out.