An open secret

There's an interesting article on Salon at the moment on the future direction of technology, and the dangers of its spread. (via /.)

This article really started to catch my attention with the author's comments on public surveillance technology and its growing applications. It was estimated some years ago that a given person spends almost 1/10 of their time in public on camera in some fashion, even if it's only a benign sort like the ones in your neighborhood 7-11. This is, to some privacy-oriented folks, kind of scary.

Now, Sheldon Pacotti (the author of the Salon piece) makes the point that the surveillance, in and of itself, may not be a bad thing. Which i find difficult to accept, because that's just not how i think. But he has a convincing argument. Given the fact that the technology exists, and that there are criminals and madmen in the world who endanger all that live around them, perhaps it's not such a bad idea to have these things on the corners. The critical aspect of the situation, and one that hadn't really occurred to me before, is that, given the fundamental inevitability of the technology, who do we want watching us?

Pacotti suggests that the best way to handle these changes is to make them open. Allow anyone at all to use the whole network of cameras and snoopers, a al Brin's Earth, which takes this idea to its logical extreme and predicts the death of secrecy. He wanders around his subject quite a bit, leaving me wondering through large tracts of his article just what side he was advocating, but in the end it doesn't matter.

I'm more interested in the conclusion that he drew with respect to surveillance. My stance has typically been "not now, not ever" on the subject - my views on privacy are, ironically, a matter of public record (in this public journal that i keep), so it feel weird to say so, but i'm not really that uncomfortable with the idea of the widespread tools of surveilance being available to the wider public. Better that we can look too, so that we can see how the users of the system are protecting us...

Anyone else out there have a take on this?

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