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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Chapter 5. The View From Above

A furious, uncoordinated project is now unfolding across the surface of our planet, in the depths of the oceans, and in the heavens above. The project is to deploy a mesh of cameras, listening devices, and sensors, and to connect those devices together using a series of computer networks so that anything that happens anywhere can be known, recorded, and preserved. The project is to turn the planet into a single scientific instrument and to create a global library of happenings.

Many civil libertarians of the 1950s and 1960s worried about the bugging of private homes and offices by the government. In recent years, newspapers have written about "spy shops" that sell sophisticated remote listening devices, tiny radio transmitters, voice-activated tape recorders, and lasers that can bounce off office windows and reveal what is spoken inside. But today, it is increasingly clear that the real threat to privacy is not the bugging of private homes, which is for the most part illegal and not a widespread practice. Instead, the real threat lies in the systematic monitoring of public places , where ability and legality have created a surveillance free-for-all.

Over the next 50 years, the widespread construction of monitoring networks will fundamentally change our understanding of what it means to be "in public." Ironically, the change will force us to accept the literal meaning of the words "public places." In the past, many public places were effectively private. ...

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