A Cautionary Tale for a New Age of Surveillance

October 8, 2001 | Source: New York Times

It’s being proposed as a solution for terrorism. But once thousands of cameras from hundreds of separate closed circuit TV systems are able to feed their digital images to a central monitoring station, and the images can be analyzed with face- and behavioral-recognition software to identify unusual patterns, then the possibilities of the Panopticon (see-all surveillance system) will suddenly become very real.
The creation of a surveillance society in Britain, with more than 2.5 million video cameras, hasn’t prevented terrorist attacks and it has had subtle but far-reaching social costs.

There’s also a powerfully American reason to resist the establishment of a national surveillance network: the cameras are not consistent with the values of an open society. And they are a powerful inducement toward social conformity for citizens who can’t be sure whether they are being watched.