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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Fumbling For the "off" Switch

Video surveillance enthusiasts like Brin and Mann believe that there will be more and more video cameras as time goes on. And in a world filled with video cameras, they argue, we will basically have two choices: having cameras that are solely under the control of businesses and governments, and having cameras that are free and accessible for everyone to use.

But alas, this utopian analysis of a dystopian future ignores basic economics. Even in a world of falling costs, someone must pay for all this technology. The people who pay the bills will decide where the cameras are pointed. And the results from the ongoing experiment in the United Kingdom are already in: video cameras do not watch all communities equally—or all individuals.

A 1997 study by the Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Hull (in Hull, United Kingdom) looked at 888 cases of targeted video surveillance—cases in which an operator could move a camera or control a video monitor—and found that the surveillance cameras were "systematically and disproportionately targeted" at young, black males "not because of their involvement in crime or disorder, but for 'no obvious reason'" other than their age and race.[20] The study found that 10% of the women were targeted for entirely "voyeuristic" reasons, and that 40% of the people monitored were targeted for no reason other than their race or ethnicity. The report concluded:

The gaze of the cameras does not fall equally on ...

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