Imminent Dystopian Surveillance: The Risk of Losing Liberty to Cameras
Imminent Dystopian Surveillance: The Risk of Losing Liberty to Cameras
Gaze perception is a biological phenomenon known to many because of its peculiar
feeling: a prickling on the back of the neck. An astonishing pace of technological
advancement has made commonplace surveillance cameras that can do more than just
capturing and storing motion pictures for indefinite use. A surveillance camera at a parking
lot may be enough to pick a person’s ‘scent’ and track them indefinitely, making it difficult to
tell whether, or not, one is alone within the confines of their home. Indeed, humans are
inherently fallible, but they do not enjoy an unrestrained spying eye even when they are not
necessarily breaking the law. It is not advisable to increase surveillance cameras in public;
this move creates an enabling environment for dystopian surveillance, a situation that would
hurt everyone but the ruling class.
Video surveillance of public places is a move that is yet to prove its purported
benefits. Extant literature on the deterrence effect of surveillance cameras has produced
mixed results at best. To be sure, surveillance cameras in public places have demonstrated
significant potential to reduce property crimes, such as auto theft, by increasing reporting,
thus enabling proactive policing (Circo & McGarrell, 2020; Piza, 2018). Nonetheless, recent
studies have consistently found CCTV programs in public places to be ineffective in reducing
violent crimes (Circo & McGarrell, 2020; Gerell, 2016). Many of the vaunted benefits of
surveillance cameras lack robust evidence of program effect, motivating one to doubt the
necessity of the development — especially when this monitoring threatens freedom and safety
of the populace.
Advocating for intensified surveillance of public places invites the use of
technologically advanced video cameras, a move that will obscure the personal-public
boundary, thus violating fundamental human rights. Today’s surveillance cameras detect
gunshots, read license plates, conduct thermal imaging, recognize faces, and hand off
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information to each other, paving way for “domain awareness” surveillance system
(Levinson-Waldman, 2016, p. 540). Impliedly, law enforcement authorities can now conduct
intensive surveillance of people, mine, and store torrents of sensitive personal data about
them. Levinson-Waldman (2016) contends that such amount of information is enough to
construct a mosaic of a person’s life and be used to curtail their freedom of religion, speech,
association, and whatnot. A powerful example of how easily this creepy, armed surveillance
can be prone to abuse manifested in the wake of one of the most contagious global
Coronavirus not just put the entire world on edge but also given government officials
a guise for accelerating mass collection through advanced AI technology. China, for example,
not only locked down Wu Han, a city of over 11 million residents but also coerced everyone
into having sort of traffic light system on their mobile phones replete with three color codes
(red, yellow, green) denoting health status of an individual at a checkpoint (Kupferschmidt &
Cohen, 2020).To be sure, new cases of the virus plummeted in China following these
aggressive measures as they rose exponentially in other countries. The country’s success in
suppressing the outbreak leaves one question unanswered: Should humans stoop as low as
using “what works when need be” as the only standard measure for action in a free and just
society? Many strategies can be successful in containing an outbreak, but they would be
considered abhorrent unless the meanings of freedom and justice were reinvented. It follows
that permitting this dystopian surveillance of public places will eventually erode people’s
rights and freedoms in many unfamiliar or inconspicuous ways – thanks to the technology
that masks abusive law practices.
Pervasive, sophisticated surveillance cameras risk permeating unjust law practices. In
a society where the law is usually old-fashioned relative to technology, intense surveillance
might erode constraints of illegal law enforcement practices. According to Levinson-
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Waldman (2016), community hostility and limited police resources serve as the checks
against abusive law enforcement practices. The author further opines that the current
technology evades these constraints by lowering the cost of prolonged, secretive, and
intrusive surveillance. It is disturbing that the government may install such a system furtively
and make it operational when the populace is most vulnerable. An increase in surveillance
cameras in public places remains improper; it rarely serves the interest of the subject.
Government surveillance has already proven perilous on the populace in many ways.
Following a revelation that authorities were gathering intelligence on people, more than one-
quarter of all informed American adults took at least one measure to hide their information
(Lyon, 2017). Consistent with Light and Obar’s (2019) view that intense state surveillance
erodes people’s rights, a parliamentary report by Wagner, Bronowicka, Berger, and Behrndt
(2015) documented how ordinary citizens, professionals, politicians, and people of different
sexual orientations have been targeted and disenfranchised in different countries through this
type of governmental surveillance. Humans have rights and freedoms that they are
universally entitled to; it is highly unlikely that anyone would enjoy them when uninvited ear
eavesdrops relentlessly as another curious eye scans all human actions in a “public” spot.
Technology has blurred the already thin line between public and private parts of an
individual’s life, giving authorities a lethal weapon (personal information) to use against
people. Practically, it is nearly impossible to isolate the private part of a person even when
they appear in public, and already intrusive surveillance technology will insouciantly
disregard this delicate concept in an attempt to collect maximum data about ordinary citizens.
The insistence on monitoring people, especially when the purported advantages of doing so
have insubstantial scientific backing, should worry advocates of liberty. Untrammeled power
is destructive. If the people cannot keep those wielding power in check – an inevitable
consequence of dystopian surveillance – they risk suffering far worse consequences than the
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unlawful behavior that surveillance in public places seeks to mitigate and, hopefully,
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Circo, G., & McGarrell, E. (2020). Estimating the impact of an integrated CCTV program on
crime. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 1-22.
Gerell, M. (2016). Hot spot policing with actively monitored CCTV cameras: Does it reduce
assaults in public places?. International criminal justice review, 26(2), 187-201.
Kupferschmidt, K., & Cohen, J. (2020, March 2). China’s aggressive measures have slowed
the coronavirus. They may not work in other countries. Science |
Levinson-Waldman, R. (2016). Hiding in Plain Sight: A Fourth Amendment Framework for
Analyzing Government Surveillance in Public. Emory LJ, 66, 527.
Light, E., & Obar, J. A. (2019). Surveillance reform: Revealing surveillance harms and
engaging reform tactics. In Research Handbook on Human Rights and Digital
Technology. Edward Elgar Publishing.
Lyon, D. (2017). Digital citizenship and surveillance| surveillance culture: Engagement,
exposure, and ethics in digital modernity. International Journal of
Communication, 11, 19.
Piza, E. L. (2018). The crime prevention effect of CCTV in public places: a propensity score
analysis. Journal of crime and justice, 41(1), 14-30.
Wagner, B., Bronowicka, J., Berger, C., & Behrndt, T. (2015). Surveillance and censorship:
The impact of technologies on human rights. European Parliament.