Tag Archives: video

Cop Cams and Transparency

          Should We See Everything a Cop Sees? In a vivid article in The New York Times, McKenzie Funk describes the wide cast of characters in Seattle who are grappling with a problem, how to comply with a court order to make police camera footage available to the public.
see-cop
          It is a giant can of worms, because the department is also legally required to redact or blur personal details such as faces or identifiable voices, for the sake of privacy. While Funk’s article makes for entertaining reading, the story is murky about the context for it all. That context is a proliferation of cameras, getting smaller, faster, cheaper, better, more numerous and mobile at rates much faster than Moore’s Law.  (Indeed, this has been called Brin’s Corollary.)
          This myopia is common to every single person I have seen weigh in – even very bright folks – on this issue.  Sure, a few of us predicted all this back in the 20th Century – e.g. in EARTH (1989) and The Transparent Society (1997) – yet the very notion of lifting the gaze beyond this month, following trend lines instead for three or five, or ten years ahead, seems impossible even for intelligent and critical observers like McKenzie Funk.
          Regarding just the zoomed dilemmas of 2016, Funk’s article does a good job of showing us the trees (the dilemmas faced by police, prosecutors, attorneys and citizens in adapting to these court decisions), without even noticing the forest. The context of why this is all happening and how this is – for all the tsuris and aggravation – a huge victory for our kind of civilization.
RightToRecordPolice          I have called it the most important civil liberties matter in our lifetimes — certainly in thirty years — even though it was hardly covered by the press. In 2013 both the U.S. courts and the Obama Administration declared it to be “settled law” that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places.
          No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of “sousveillance” or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about. It is also fundamental to freedom, for in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth.
          Sousveillance — looking back — is the opposite of surveillance. Watching the watchers is our only method of achieving accountability over the actions of those in power.
          But the forest is rapidly changing! Next year, the same scene that was today only visible on a cop-cam’s footage will have been covered also by the suspect’s auto-record phone app, or a passerby’s dashcam. Or a store’s security system, or chains of cheap button cams stuck on lamp posts by activist groups, or even hobbyists. Follow the price curve a bit farther and you have the sticker cameras that I describe in EXISTENCE, stuck to any surface by 9-year olds who peel them from great, big rolls, each with its own code in IPV6 cyberspace and powered by trickles of sunlight.
          In that context, not a single issue wrangled-over in the NY Times’s hand-wringing article will seem anything but archaic – even troglodytic – just half a decade from now. If there was ever an era in desperate need of the Big Perspectives of science fiction….

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Sousveillance: A New Era for Police Accountability

== THE POLICE WILL HAVE TO CHOOSE ==

Police are waging a futile war against camera-toting citizens. In several states, you can be arrested for filming police, even in a public place. With cameras growing ever smaller, conflicts are going to arise more and more often. There can only be one outcome. Police are just going to have to get used to it.

One recent incident: “After a horrific shootout on the streets of Miami, Narces Benoit and his girlfriend witnessed the finale: police firing a barrage of rounds into a man’s car. Narces recorded it. The police smashed his phone. But first? He stuck the SD memory card into his mouth and saved the footage.”

And then there’s the story of Emily Good, who stood on her front lawn in Rochester recording police searching a man’s car for drugs (none were found). Police responded that they didn’t feel safe with her behind them…and ordered her to go inside her house. She did not comply, continued filming, and was arrested. Recording police is not illegal in New York, and she made no threatening moves. They declared that she was “anti-police” as a rationale. Watch the video.

Another horrific example. “Woman could get 15 years for recording cops after one of them allegedly assaulted her.”

TransparentSocietyI’ve been writing about this for decades. Some very prescient passages in The Transparent Society, describe exactly this kind of tension, between citizens armed with new tools of vision and accountability, and tens of thousands of cops who – from day to day – see themselves as doing a harsh, difficult and under-appreciated job. Look, I appreciate it. Not only the skill and professionalism that has played a big part in decreased crime rates ion the United States, but also the daily fight that every officer must wage, to maintain that professionalism, under circumstances that might send any of us into uncontrollable rage. We all carry hormonal and neuronal and psychological baggage from the million year Stone Age… and ten thousand years of urban life in which the king’s thugs patrolled the streets without having to think twice before slinging their truncheons at the heads of punks.

Nevertheless, we’re asking more of you, now. It is our civilization — and the rules have changed.

In fact, the glass is far more than half full. The men and women in most modern American police forces are adapting to the the new standards of behavior. Clenching their teeth and calling “sir” even the most outrageously abusive drunks. I am proud to know some of these folks. Moreover, I can understand why they might worry about that one time they lose their cool, coming back to haunt them, because some putz on the nearby street corner decides to record that momentary lapse on a cell cam.

I sympathize. I do. Yet I refuse to accept the arguments that good cops need “privacy” to perform their jobs. It doesn’t wash. It is a ridiculous argument, aimed at achieving convenience and evasion of accountability, and we will not allow it. Technology will not allow it.

Technology will not allow it. For — according to “Brin’s corollary to Moore’s Law” — the cameras will get smaller, cheaper, more numerous and more mobile every year. So figures of authority might as well get used to it now.

This is the new world. It will be watching — assume it at any given moment. And I promise you this…juries and citizen review boards will bear in mind that we’re all human. When you suffer that inevitable, occasional, not-too-awful over-reaction, there will often be a second chance. We’re human too and we want our cities patrolled. When all of this equilibrates, we will have to make some allowances for good people, caught making a rare mistake.

What’s the alternative? Are you really going to push this “never record us” lunacy? Do you really want the law to deny us the ONLY recourse that a citizen has ever had, against bullying and abuse of power? Really? The only thing that we have on our side?

It is called the Truth. And if you fear it, then we do… not…want you as our hired protector. Please. Get another job. We are changing the rules. And from now on, only adults need apply.

== FINALLY, A FEW ANNOUNCEMENTS ==

Living lasers?” Way back in 1980, my first novel SUNDIVER proposed that living matter might be made to produce laser emissions. Scientists had already used organic dye as a laser amplification material. It seemed plausible (to me) that life could take the next steps, excitation and cavity reflection. All right, it’s more than just a few steps to creatures with laser-shooting eyes! Still, three decades later, my forecast is coming true. Two Massachusetts scientists report having caused laser activity inside living cells. The photos are amazing.

Want Kids to win the future? Turn them into Makers — and Sci Fi Fans. I attended Maker Faire and gave a keynote, then toured this “Woodstock for nerds” with my son.

Want to hear some good audio sci fi? One of my stories dramatized for a podcast?

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