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The rise of personal surveillance

March 9, 2009

CBS News in the USA is reporting on the rise of stalking and in particular the use of more powerful, smaller and cheaper surveillance devices: embedded hidden cameras, GPS trackers and so on. They discuss in particular the case of Michael Strahan, a sportsman who seems to be obsessed with keeping watch on family and friends. But the bigger pictures is that stalking is something that apparently affects around 3.4 million US citizens. That’s more than one in a hundred, an astonishing figure if it’s anywhere near ‘right’.

Stalking and personal surveillance are an integral part of the culture of any state in which order in ensured through surveillance. We are creating unhealthy societies in which personal relationships between people are increasingly characterised by the same fear and distrust as states have of their people.

Smart Dust chips (Dust Networks)

Smart Dust chips (Dust Networks)

ravenThis is only going to get harder to regulate as things like ‘smart dust’ and micro-UAVs come down in price and are more easily available. And already surveillance equipment like head-mounted cameras for cyclists, is marketed as ‘toys’… regulation is only half the answer. The other half has to be in working out how to shift away from this mistrustful, fearful, risk-obsessed culture. Part of this has to be down to government: the more that surveillance is part of every solution they come up with to any problem, the worse the social malaise will become.

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