Friday, September 23, 2005

Augmented reality and law enforcement

In my post about the Posse Comitatus Act earlier this week, I was discussing the militarization of the police. Haggerty and Ericson have a great article on this topic in the Journal of Military and Political Sociology that is well worth looking up:

Michel Foucault has suggested that the eighteenth century was shaped by a military dream of the perfect society, a dream which consisted of the "meticulously subordinated cogs of a machine," "permanent coercions," "indefinitely progressive forms of training" and "automatic docility." Contemporary transformations in military technoscience have augmented, and to some degree supplanted, this disciplinary vision. The twenty-first century also promises to be shaped by its own militaristic dream, one that involves a quest for immediate, perfect and total knowledge, absolute command at a distance, all combined with the ability to transcend human limitations on perception.

Kevin D. Haggerty and Richard V. Ericson, The Militarization of Policing in the Information Age, 27 Journal of Military and Political Sociology 233, 237 (Winter 1999) (citations omitted).
Simon Davies has also observed that closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) have had a profound effect on law enforcement and how we define the urban landscape in this post-modern age.
CCTV is quickly becoming an integral part of crime-control policy, social control theory, and "community consciousness." It is widely viewed as a primary solution for urban dysfunction. It is no exaggeration to conclude that the technology has had more of an impact on the evolution of law enforcement policy than just about any other technology initiative in the last two decades....The effectiveness of CCTV in preventing crime is not certain, but it would be difficult to deny that the technology is quickly changing the face of crime prevention and social control.

Simon G. Davies, Re-Engineering the Right to Privacy: How Privacy Has Been Transformed from a Right to a Commodity. Technology and Privacy: The New Landscape 147, 151 (Philip E. Agre and Marc Rotenberg, eds., MIT Press: 1998)
It's hard to discuss these issues dispassionately. David Lyon summed it up well when he wrote:
Several years ago, when I first started researching and writing about surveillance, I endeavored to maintain an appropriate stance that was neither paranoid nor complacent. I argued (and still do) that surveillance of some kind is both socially necessary and desirable but that it is always ambiguous. The dangers and risks attending surveillance are as significant as its benefits. In contexts where I felt people were being alarmist and shrill I cautioned restraint and pleaded for more careful analysis. In contexts where complacency seemed to reign I tried to show that surveillance has real effects on people's life-chances and life-choices that can at times be very negative.

Since 9/11, however, the pendulum has swung so wildly from "care" to "control" that I feel compelled to turn more robustly to critique. While I still insist that attitudes towards surveillance should be ambivalent, the evidence discussed in this book obliges me to observe that oblique dissent will no longer do. Some instances of early twenty-first century surveillance are downright unacceptable, as they directly impugn social justice and human personhood. They help create a world where no one can trust a neighbor, and where decisions and policy are made behind closed doors or within "smart" systems.

David Lyon, Surveillance after September 11 143 (Polity: 2003).
Of course, cameras aren't only being used by the state, video vigilantes are using cameras to document abuses by the state. The ubiquity of camera phones and camcorders means that any event could be recorded. Anything you do may be recorded by someone with or without your knowledge. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase: "The whole world is a stage."

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