“iWATCH my neighbor, because iTHINK he is up to no good.”

On: November 1, 2009
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About Thomas Fonville
A Bachelor of Arts, specialized in New Media. Currently upgrading towards a Master of New Media. My interest in the field of new media lies in the subject of space, and how new media can shape these different spaces. My Bachelor thesis named; "Augmented space and Digital Art, or a remediation of virtual reality" concentrated on the subject of space in relation to Digital Art. Apart from new media I have a major interest in popular culture and modern art.

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Last week I came across an internet posting about the new commercial for a new campaign by the Los Angeles Police Department. This commercial shows different kinds of American people all promising to do their best in order to keep America safe. In order to reach such a kind of safety, these Americans all promise to watch their surroundings. This need for new security can according to the LAPD lead to prevent terrorist attacks. In reading about programs like this I am immediately reminded of concepts like participatory surveillance, wherein the subject of surveillance willfully agree to partake in the surveilling. Surveillance in the public space is no new concept, after all the Close Caption TeleVision camera’s are being implemented in more and more different spaces. This brings me to a notion from David Brin who mentions in his work “The Transparant Society” two different future city models. In this future cities crime is absent, this because of the implementation of tiny CCTV cameras on every street corner of the city.(1.)The two models Brin focuses on are divided in the ‘city of control’ and the ‘city of glass.’ Note that both cities handle the CCTV system, in the ‘city of control’ the end user of the CCTV system is the state. In the ‘city of glass’ model the end user is the citizen of the metropolis in which the CCTV system is active. Brin also notes about the ‘city of glass’, that citizen are able to retrieve captured images everywhere and al the time. (2.)

In looking specifically at the iWATCH campaign, one thing immediately comes to mind  . That is the question of course of: ‘what works better than a electronic camera?’ In applying this question towards the iWATCH campaign once citizens of a metropolis will watch each other, of course these citizens are able to add meaning to the images. Since citizens are able to deduct more out of an electronic image then an electronic camera would do.

The iWATCH campaign is probably an offspring of the war on terror and the patriot act.  With the patriot act a lot of institutions got more power to registrate and question citizens. Also a lot of institutions upgraded their electronic security. And still a lot of security companies try to better and improve their products, in order to make them ‘smarter’. Since most electronic devices only can note that what they are made for, a human aspect still is needed. Frederickson and LaPorte note about the use of these electronic systems:

“Air passenger and baggage security is an especially interesting case because, in addition to difficulties of maintaining close attention to increasingly automated passenger and baggage screening technologies, certain key decision elements are judgmental and as yet lack precise decision rules. Elements of passenger age, gender, race, ethnicity, behavior, and appearance have to do with the level of risk and are likely as informative as data provided by machines. This is further complicated by our concern with possible racial or ethnic profiling.”(3.)

Here is shown that in looking at individuals in order to achieve a secure environment, this is somewhat problematic. In looking at the iWATCH campaign, one can easily see that a neighborhood with different people which each have their own idea about a safe neighborhood, can lead to wrong accusations. For instance it could become very easy for people to deduct wrong conclusions out of peoples behaviors. With this program guidelines are given on the LAPD website, but only very globally.  Personally  I find a program like this disturbing, it evokes mistrust among citizens. I find a camera more honest in these matters since a camera only registrates, therefore the images can be used later either with or against a person.

Surely the LAPD means the best to all of the citizens of Los Angeles, although their motto “to serve and protect” is in quotation marks, but this control method is somewhat unfortunate.

1. David Brin “The Transparant Society”

2. David Brin “The Transparant Society”

3. Frederickson, H. George; LaPorte, Todd R. Airport Security, High Reliability, and the problem of Rationality. Public Administration Review, Volume 62, Supplement 1, September 2002, Page 37.

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