The optimal tradeoff between privacy and security is a topic that is endlessly debated.
In the past, omnipresent surveillance was not feasible—but technology is now at the point where implementation of a 1984-esque surveillance state is actually possible.
On the one hand, it would be theoretically convenient to have immediate response to crimes and/or injuries, and perhaps take action to prevent some crimes before they even occur.
On the other hand, you might be sent to a faraway gulag because you opposed the interests of a politically-connected individual.
The problem here, of course, is the human element (see Figure 1).
Fig. 1: This guy (right) can monitor every aspect of your life on the video screens (left). This works fine until you become successful and he blackmails you!
But if an all-seeing computer system (like Skynet in the Terminator series) were in charge of things, we could could theoretically know that the surveillance system could not be misused, and would only be used for the programmed-in purposes (e.g., catching kidnappers and insane murderers).
Humans would write the rules for the system, but the raw data would (somehow) be inaccessible except to the analysis computer (Fig. 2).
Some example rules that might be applied:
- If a car was used in a felony, check traffic cameras for its license plate number.
- If a person has purchased explosive-manufacture-related chemicals, check their records for unusual activity and potentially flag them for further investigation by actual humans.
- If a person declared no taxable income, but drives around in an 80,000 dollar car, check them for tax fraud.
Since these rules could be set by the legislature, they could be transparent and subject to review by the voters.
One downside: many countries operate on implicit rules like:
- If a person supports an opposing political party, make sure to harass and imprison them.
- If a person is a member of a disfavored ethnic or religious group, make sure to hold them to the strictest letter of the law.
- Otherwise, don’t enforce any rules at all.
These informal enforcement rules might be less likely to survive if they had to be explicitly coded up and put on the official registry of surveillance rules. Or perhaps they would remain, and just be enforced with horrific robotic precision!
Fig 2: This robot is totally trustworthy with your personal data, and has no ulterior motives or desires of its own (unlike a human).
Fig 3: This unblinking “panopticon” eye will be a useful symbol to let you know you are in a safe and trustworthy robot-surveilled region! Stick one of these in your bedroom and bathroom to remind you that a robot is watching you at all times.
When you lobby for omnipresent surveillance, make sure to imagine the predicable scenario where some irrationally angry neighbor or ambitious business rival now has a recording of every stupid thing you (and your friends/family) have ever done!
PROS: Would probably reduce many types of crime.
CONS: Terminator and/or 1984.