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Government Information Gathering

Joe Huffman has a good post up on government information gathering on its citizens.  I think this is indeed something we have to be wary of, but only to the extent that the government can compel me to give them information.   The government, for instance, knows my income because they will lock me up for failing to file an income tax return.

But in an information based society government will be able to know a lot about its citizens.  Our government probably knows more about its citizens than any other government in history.  There won’t be much means to avoid that.  Conversely though, information technology also makes it possible to know more about our government than any other people in history.  I would encourage and recommend anyone who’s interested in this topic to read David Brin’s The Transparent Society.  Brin’s argument is essentially that technology is going to make information and surveillance technology ubiquitous, and there’s not much we’ll be able to do about it:

While this has the makings for an Orwellian nightmare, Brin argues that we can choose to make the same scenario a setting for even greater freedom. The determining factor is whether the power of observation and surveillance is held only by the police and the powerful or is shared by us all. In the latter case, Brin argues that people will have nothing to fear from the watchers because everyone will be watching each other. The cameras would become a public resource to assure that no mugger is hiding around the corner, our children are playing safely in the park, and police will not abuse their power.

No simplistic Utopian, Brin also acknowledges the many dangers on the way. He discusses how open access to information can either threaten or enhance freedom. It is one thing, for example, to make the entire outdoors public and another thing to allow the cameras and microphones to snoop into our homes. He therefore spends a lot of pages examining what steps are required to assure that a transparent society evolves in a manner that enhances rather than restricts freedom.

It’s a good read.  I don’t always agree with the book, but it makes you think.

6 Responses to “Government Information Gathering”

  1. kaveman says:

    Gee, I’m sure criminals won’t use free access to camera data streams to determine when you are and aren’t home.

  2. I actually found an article a few days ago on how a criminal can use a government database

    http://madrocketsci.blogspot.com/2008/01/good-analysis-on-why-government-lists.html

  3. Sebastian says:

    They could, but presumably your cameras will catch everything they do. Imagine a system that could send a picture to your PDA if it detects a person in your house while you’re not home? What it it could send the same thing to the police?

  4. kaveman says:

    All I can say is all you have to do is look at London’s crime rate with over 3 million cameras.

  5. Sebastian says:

    London’s surveillance system is exactly the kind Brin warns about; one that is controlled strictly by the government.

  6. Alcibiades McZombie says:

    There are already some ethernet cameras with built-in motion detectors. They can send images to an FTP server (and with some scripting help, emailed to you).

    I don’t think all parts of government will react the same way with cameras everywhere. I’d expect Child Protective Services to freak out more often, though.

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