Friday, April 10, 2009

Little Brother Is Watching You

Via -

When London's mobile CCTV cameras were shut down by a legal ruling two days before the G20 protests in London, conspiracy theorists suggested that the blackout had been contrived so that the police could be let off the reins. Without CCTV, there would be no record of official wrongdoing.

It was a neat theory, but naively old-fashioned in its assumption that the state had a monopoly on surveillance. The emergence of amateur video showing Ian Tomlinson, the man who had a heart attack on the day of the protests, being pushed to the ground by a police officer soon before he died. It clearly demonstrates that for every camera pointed at you by Big Brother, there are 10 more pointed back by Little Brother — an informed, digitally savvy civilian population that has the tools to record anything, anytime, anywhere.


We've grown used to the idea that amateur footage will trump the professionals in the moments after air crashes, floods and fires, but we haven't yet grasped what that does to the balance of power between the state, the media and the individual.

 Surveillance is still talked of as something done to us by them, but increasingly it's something done to everyone by everyone else. What that means for the authorities is that they can no longer control the flow of information about their actions.

They haven't yet stopped trying. Without the camera work of the New York fund manager who captured some of Tomlinson's last moments, the final word on his death would have gone to the police: "[He] suffered a sudden heart attack while on his way home from work."

The week-old footage that emerged today does not contradict that official statement, but it widens the lens through which we see the event, and it changes our perspective. Instead of the sober, considered response of a senior media-trained officer, calmly delivered hours after the event, we're in the thick of the action. It's messy footage of jeering protesters and a policeman lunging at a middle-age man, who stumbles to the ground. It leaves little room for complacency.


The story brings to mind Cory Doctorow's novel, Little Brother, which examines how smart, tech-savvy individuals can level the playing field against agents of the state by using their own understanding of digital tools to subvert and confront them.


Google, the owner of YouTube, provoked a flurry of outrage (and plenty of benign curiosity) when it launched Street View in Britain last month, but taking still images of a street every couple of years is even less efficient as a means of surveillance than official CCTV. An individual with a camera and access to a network is a far greater threat to our privacy, and a far more powerful guardian of our liberty.

Little Brother is watching you, and watching over you.

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