I Don’t Want to Live in a World Where Everyone has a Body Camera

“I don’t want to live in a world where everyone is wearing a body camera.”

I’ve probably heard that line about a dozen times when pitching the Shonin idea to people. And my response is usually to look up and scan the corners of the room that I’m in. Unless we are in a board room or someone’s house I can usually start counting cameras. If I’m outside I look for building corners or up at some light posts. When I point them out I always ask “did you notice them?”, and so far the answer has always been “no”. Why not?

People are afraid of the surveillance state, and they should be. Many of us have read Orwell’s 1984, or watches dystopian scifi shows that explore those themes. I get the fear, and I agree with it, but here’s the thing: the boat has sailed.

Most of the developed nations have had legal frameworks in place that allow for mass surveillance for many years now. There are now adults that have been born after the Patriot Act in the US has been enacted. And that’s just the governments. The amount of surveillance that is performed on publics spaces that are private properties – coffee shops, shopping malls, transit is arguably greater and less discriminating. I would argue that it is also more ripe for misuse.

“But they can’t make sense of all that data they are gathering” Sure. Maybe for now. But there are very smart people working to bridge that gap, and they’re making traction.

Tech giants perform a terrifying amount of analytics on your private data. Your digital footprint leaves behind metadata that, coupled with new big data mining capabilities, will be analyzed and exploited even if you carefully read all ToS agreements and opt out of everything judiciously.

If you were a privacy activist from fifteen or twenty years ago (like I was) the deck was stacked against you. The financial incentive for private interests to run analytics on people is too great. The government agencies’ incentives are such that without very intelligent and effective oversight infringing on your privacy is the “easy and safe” thing to do. There is just no reason why they wouldn’t. And the “yous and mes” of the world either didn’t pay attention, or didn’t mind the incremental loss of privacy for the convenience gained along the way. We slowly slid down the slope.

Fact: if you are reading this you already live in a surveillance state. So what are we at Shonin really changing here?

My view is that we make the surveillance democratic and even out the imbalance that currently exists between governments, large corporate interests, and the little guy. And when we point cameras at government agents and corporate functionaries, we find that behavior changes. The same government agents that tell you that “if you’ve done nothing wrong then you’ve got nothing to hide” start asking folks why they’re filming. Corporate training is suddenly aware of potential PR disasters that stem from viral videos and policies are being updated accordingly. People get fired for bad behavior. Viral videos can move stock prices.

It turns out that this surveillance thing is a double-edged sword so long as the tools are evenly distributed. In that way, we fight for the little guy.