The 21st-Century Peep Show

Big Brother's got you under surveillance. But so does little sister.

[...] Digital [cell phone] cameras do have the potential to generate a good-citizen award every now and then. But Bill Brown, founder of the anti-surveillance activist group Surveillance Camera Players, says sites like Holla Back illustrate the "lowest common denominator" effect of fighting cameras with cameras, instead of saying no to sousveillance or any other kind of surveillance, period. "It's never going to be a good thing," he says. "You're opening the floodgates to a universal degradation, reinforcing mutual suspicion and paranoia. I'm going through your trash, you're going through mine. I'm taking pictures of you, you're taking pictures of me. And all in the name of keeping people safe from some pretty soft crimes."

[...] Bill Brown, of Surveillance Camera Players, points out that even guilty people deserve due process. "If a picture is circulated in that fashion, people will believe the person guilty before he has been found so," Brown says. "A person could be tracked down, even beaten up -- and all of this will take place outside the normal [criminal-justice] channels."

[...] And statistics for this kind of activity -- people claiming they've been marred by something on the Web -- aren't available in the U.S. [...] But the link between person-to-person incidents of cyber-violence and government surveillance is noteworthy in light of Bill Brown's view that supporting any kind of citizen-on-citizen camera use contributes to the overall surveillance problem.

Whether or not all privacy activists agree with Brown -- Rotenberg believes his stance is too extreme, though Brown pushes for some of the same surveillance restraints EPIC does -- one thing is certain: The advancing technology is eroding privacy, and brothers both big and little are beneficiaries of your information [...]

(Written by Kathryn Belgiorno and published in the 25 April 2006 issue of The Village Voice.)

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