Sunday, February 1, 2009

Weekly Roundup

9 comments:

galina.olmsted said...

This past weekend, the logical fallacies associated with perpetual video surveillance became all too real and personal for one Georgetown junior who, for the purpose of this post, will be named “Ryan”. On Friday night, Ryan ended up at Epicurean, a bar here on campus. When he went to leave, he realized that his jacket, with his keys in the pocket, and his scarf had been taken from the chair where he left it. Now, it probably wasn’t in Ryan’s best interest to leave a $250 Northface jacket on a chair in a bar, but there were dozens of coats where his was, and one can reasonably expect a certain amount of trust in such circumstances.
The next day, Ryan went back to Epicurean to see if perhaps the coat had been misplaced. It had not. He asked the manager to show him the surveillance tape from the previous night. Epicurean, a bar that does not scan IDs, records every move of its patrons onto hours and hours of tape. The managers showed Ryan the tape from around the time of the theft, and they could clearly see a girl pick up the coat, put it on, and walk out wearing it, with the scarf in her hand. There was also ample footage of the girl talking to her friends and circulating throughout the bar. Ryan didn’t know the girl, but was certain that if he put the video up on Facebook or YouTube, someone would be able to identify her. It’s pretty clear that her intentions were not malicious. She was probably just drunk and cold. He had, and maintains, no intention of pressing charges against this girl; he just wants to get his jacket back.
When Ryan asked the management at Epicurean for the tape, they refused, saying they would only release the tape to the police. Ryan went to DPS, who came, looked at the tape, took a blurry screenshot of the girl, refused to pull the tape in its entirety, and filed a report. Ryan then went to MPD, hoping to get the tape seized from Epicurean for the purpose of investigation. MPD opened a case file, assigned a detective, but so far, no one from MPD has headed down to Epicurean to take a look at the tape.
This scenario, although small-scale, raises from important questions I think are quite relevant to this course, the first of which is Internet vigilantism. Ryan hopes to put the video of this girl on YouTube and Facebook in order to identify her. This is not unlike a case here at Georgetown last year, where a student who was allegedly assaulted and called a “faggot” by a stranger was able to identify his supposed attacker using Facebook. Ryan does want this girl to face criminal charges, and only wants to recover his personal property. What he hasn’t considered is the potentially damaging effects of posting a video of someone drunkenly stealing a jacket on the Internet. While I am personally opposed to Internet vigilantism as a means of singling out alleged criminals, it’s understandable that a college student would turn to the social networking technology available to him and his peers in handling this sort of conflict.
The larger issue here deals with video surveillance. The vast majority of Americans seem to have apathetically surrendered to being surveilled and taped in private establishments under the pretense that this precaution can only benefit the larger public. In reality, video surveillance in private establishments aims to protect the establishment itself, and not necessarily its patrons. Surveillance tapes become the property of the surveiller, and as Ryan’s case proves, are released only when law enforcement requires them to be. The two justifications for video surveillance that seem to be most commonly echoed in class are that is serves as a deterrent, and that it can be used in the investigation of crimes. Neither of those holds true. It’s easy to dismiss the crime in Ryan’s case as petty, but $250, plus the cost of changing the locks for the two houses that he had keys to, is hardly petty cash for a college student. Also, crime is crime, and its relative significance not a judgment call that should be left up to bar managers. Video surveillance is an ineffective deterrent if the tapes are not, in fact, being used in the investigation of crimes, minor or major. As it has been mentioned in class, there is a surveillance camera for every 14 British citizens, and yet, in 2007, London’s crime rate was 39% higher than that of New York City. Constant video surveillance has not proved to be a reliable deterrent (and in fact, street lighting has been shown to be a more effective deterrent in urban areas, in addition to being less expensive, and not at all threatening to basic civil liberties). Ultimately, when we surrender to being surveilled at all times, the data collected becomes the sole property of our surveillers, its own beneficiaries. The false sense of security we get from constant surveillance is just that, entirely false, and in my opinion, the encroachment on my civil liberties and privacy is too high a price to pay for the offhand chance that Epicurean might still have the tape by time the MPD responds.

Sources consulted:
http://rinf.com/alt-news/surveillance-big-brother/londons-cctv-network-is-a-waste-of-cash/1317/

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601102&sid=aBDpEu06wzXc&refer=uk

ben b said...

Great post, lots of different points. I just want to respond to one of them - your contention that private establishments conduct video surveillance that is not actually in their patrons' interest.

What comes to my mind is this: can you blame them? Think about the kind of litigious society we live in. What if 'Ryan' had chosen to sue Epicurean for the loss of his jacket?

When RA's here at Georgetown conduct closing inspections at the end of each semester, they are required to do them in pairs, as a liability concern, in order to defend against any potential accusations of theft later. This is similar to at least one reason private businesses like Epicurean might maintain video logs - in order to be able to prove their own innocence at a later date, if necessary.

galina.olmsted said...

I agree, but then let's call it what it is. It comes down to personal choice: I can choose not to patronize establishments that want to film my every move. For that to work, there needs to be complete transparency when it comes to who is surveilling whom, and it cannot be justified as a means of protecting the general public. I've never paid attention, but I don't think Epicurean posts that the premises are under video surveillance, and they certainly aren't advertising what happens to those tapes when, and if, they become valuable to a second (or third, or fourth...) party.
It might be a bit of a stretch to even suggest this, but think about the hours and hours of candid video featuring crowds of 18-24 year olds... what we wear, what we talk about, how we behave... that's valuable information to marketers. Would it be an invasion of privacy for bars to sell their footage to market research groups?

Ryan said...

Response to Google Earth Drug Bust:
Although we all are aware that this type of technology is available and many of us in fact use it, I have concerns about this type of police activity. The headline of the article mainly sums up my concern with “you can’t hide from the all-seeing eyes of Google.” My response to that statement is why not? I think it is fair to ask why isn’t it possible to hide from Google …because I didn’t ask to be placed in their database. Although using this type of technology to catch criminals reminds me of Minority Report and a host of other big brother like movies, the idea that cops can rest on surveying a location from a computer is worrisome. I am no conspiracy theorist and I don’t believe that the government is actively monitoring my home, but the thought that someone could for free bothers me. Amendment 4 of the Constitution prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” without a warrant to search private property. If a police officer can see a view of my home without first even going to the location and two get views of the property that could not be seen ordinarily, I think that it could be viewed as unreasonable and an invasion of privacy. I think that police officers should use various resources to solve crimes but it doesn’t sit right that Google earth or maps should be one of them. Since writing this post, I have looked up my school, house, my parents company, and basically any other location that I have I frequented in Atlanta, Georgia with great detail even getting street views of the various buildings. Since this technology is free to use without any authorization, the reason why I was looking can never be known. Although many say that they have nothing to hide and therefore the cops or literally anyone being able to see their home and other frequented places doesn’t bother them, I have to question if a street view of one’s home isn’t slightly concerning.And although Google earth does not have live feeds of these areas I think points we discussed earlier become important such as how increased video surveillance doesn’t lead to decreased crime. I ultimately think that this technology has two very bad effects; it allows criminals or those inclined for mischievous acts to plot and plan their crimes while allowing police officers to questionable performance of their duties while investigating.



http://www.reghardware.co.uk/2008/06/18/tech_aids_pool_crashing/

Jason Im said...

My response to the Google Earth Drug bust:
While I acknowledge that the increased use of more invasive kinds of surveillance technology can cause concern, I do not believe that the article poses a significant encroachment upon the privacy of the owners of the two-acre field of weed. In response to the post above, the comparison to the movie 'Minority Report' is inappropriate because the movie depicts the surveillance of events that not only are in the future, but also within the confines of a person's home. In the case we are presented with here, the police did not conduct a search of someone's home, but simply used a tool that is a compilation of public data. Although the police used an unconventional form of detective work, they did not use anything that would not be any more available than by flying in a commercial jet or driving around the neighborhood of the field. Society must be wary of the abuse of technology, but I do not believe it was misused here. The better question is how a 2 acre field of marijuana was not discovered earlier in the first place.

kyle h said...

To be honest, this news story confused me a little. Did the police already know about these marijuana growers and simply find them using google earth or, using google earth, did they discover that these farmers were in fact, marijuana growers? Were they simply using google earth to look at neighborhoods and happened to find a suspicious looking 2 acre farm or were they looking in a specific location for this farm, and managed to find it using google earth. Either way, I think this story is a little creepy, I’ve never been comfortable with the way you can find an aerial view of someone’s house using their address, though luckily my neighborhood only features a map not an actual picture. It’s so disturbing that the police used an application like google earth to essentially obtain evidence which led to the arrest of these farmers. The question that this article brought up for me was whether or not organizations like the D.E.A utilize internet services like Google to discover and eventually destroy illegal drug organizations. Let me explain, my father had a recent bone marrow surgery and consequently takes about 15 to 20 different medications on a daily basis. My mom is essentially computer-retarded, so I re-order his medicines online. A few weeks ago, I was searching google to see if I could find a cheaper deal on one of his more expensive pills. In the process, I came across several different sites advertising “Prescription Medications with no prescription necessary.” I didn’t even bother to go to any of these sites, because we did have a prescription, so I don’t know if they are actually illegal corporations or simply scams. Either way, it seems ridiculous that these websites haven’t been destroyed already. All you have to do is search Prescription Medication on google and for every legitimate online pharmacy you stumble across, you receive three or four hits from NO PRESCRIP necessary sites. This would seem like a great place for police and investigators to start when trying to eliminate illegal drug market. And it seems like it would be rather simple to charge and convict the perpetrators.

kyle h said...

To be honest, this news story confused me a little. Did the police already know about these marijuana growers and simply find them using google earth or, using google earth, did they discover that these farmers were in fact, marijuana growers? Were they simply using google earth to look at neighborhoods and happened to find a suspicious looking 2 acre farm or were they looking in a specific location for this farm, and managed to find it using google earth. Either way, I think this story is a little creepy, I’ve never been comfortable with the way you can find an aerial view of someone’s house using their address, though luckily my neighborhood only features a map not an actual picture. It’s so disturbing that the police used an application like google earth to essentially obtain evidence which led to the arrest of these farmers. The question that this article brought up for me was whether or not organizations like the D.E.A utilize internet services like Google to discover and eventually destroy illegal drug organizations. Let me explain, my father had a recent bone marrow surgery and consequently takes about 15 to 20 different medications on a daily basis. My mom is essentially computer-retarded, so I re-order his medicines online. A few weeks ago, I was searching google to see if I could find a cheaper deal on one of his more expensive pills. In the process, I came across several different sites advertising “Prescription Medications with no prescription necessary.” I didn’t even bother to go to any of these sites, because we did have a prescription, so I don’t know if they are actually illegal corporations or simply scams. Either way, it seems ridiculous that these websites haven’t been destroyed already. All you have to do is search Prescription Medication on google and for every legitimate online pharmacy you stumble across, you receive three or four hits from NO PRESCRIP necessary sites. This would seem like a great place for police and investigators to start when trying to eliminate illegal drug market. And it seems like it would be rather simple to charge and convict the perpetrators.

Jessie D said...

My response to UK Lords: Too much spying on Brit citizens
As the “most spied-upon country in the world”, the UK surely has its critics concerning its surveillance, but it was surprising to hear that its own Lords are not fully supporting its protocol. I feel that it is also extremely difficult for a nation or any type of organized group to regress in its mode of work. Therefore, for the UK to actually reduce its security after being accustomed to it is a tough task. This goes hand in hand with the topic of our privacy. The more technologically advanced our society becomes and more habituated it becomes to certain advances, the harder it will be to control our own privacy. This article also discusses the data being held by the government. It states that “there are national databases designed to hold personal information on nearly every U.K. citizen”. However, after becoming more familiar with surveillance and national security I fail to completely distinguish this as unusual behavior as I may have before. The Lords disagreed with punishing citizens for littering simply because they were caught on camera as they said it was a violation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. However, perhaps if people are aware that they are being watched they will stop littering and start doing the right thing.
My response to Big Brother Gets Bigger, says global privacy study
This article also speaks of how “in terms of statutory protections and privacy enforcement, the United States is the worst country in the “democratic world” and “in the European world the worst-ranked country is the United Kingdom”. I found the classification of the US very interesting since we are a democracy and put the rights of the people first. However, this article seems to imply that perhaps the rights of our people are infringed upon since their privacy is reduced. As much as I agree with the article in that our privacy is becoming diminished, I would not say that our rights are becoming destroyed as well. Simply because the United States wants protection for its citizens does not mean that it does not want its people to be able to live freely as well. People are able to do as they please and they may or may not be being watched as they do so. In terms of security created by the government, if its actions are only to benefit and ensure safety for its citizens then they are completely justified.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9838743-7.html?tag=mncol
http://news.cnet.com/security/?tag=hdr;snav

Patrick D. said...

I wanted to comment on the Abelson and Solove readings that were assigned for Jan. 26. I must admit that our class discussion about several of these topics was very interesting.

What Aberlson talked about was very enlightening. I never imagined that "supermarekt loyaty cards privide personal information about buying patters."

More interesting was what could actually happen to that data. Companies can sell this data to other people who will use it to target market to us.

According to Solove, the process of target marketing was started when the "private sector obtained demographic information afrom the federal government." In the 1970s the U.S. government began selling its census data on magnetic strips." The names were left off of these strips, but clever marketing agencies could piece the missing names to the other information with a little work.

Still, there lacks a sufficient amount of comprehensive law to force companies to delete these records, while not finding ways to continue to use and store with the protection of legal loopholes.

The industry is larger than I ever imagined. "In 2001 direct marketing resulted in almost $2 trillion in sales," according to Solove.

With Moore's law in place, and the increased ease in dissemenating information, I wouldn't be suprised if every major company has sent a database with my information in it.

Yet, when it is all said and done, I think I am confortable to say that I have been happy to sacrafice some privacy for the efficiency and conveince I receive from target marketing.