The Transparent Society is now

November 17, 2006 — 1 Comment

…and we are in city #2.

Let me explain: in The Transparent Society, David Brin argues that the march of technology will bring us to a point where every part of our public lives will be recorded. According to Brin, this will be accomplished via “tiny cameras, panning left and right, surveying traffic and pedestrians, observing everything in open view.” The book asks one basic questions: who should have access to the images captured by the cameras? Two scenarios are given: in “city #1″ the police and governing authorities have access to the images, in “city #2″, the public shares access with them. He argues that, while both would lead to a large reduction in crime, the latter would reduce the abuse of power by the authorities. When I discuss this book with my students every semester, many are doubtful that this would be the case: members of the public would abuse the use of the cameras and invade privacy. But we all agree that it is very likely that this “transparent society” will indeed come to pass, and very soon.

Written in 1999, the book did not envision armies of citizen with their own personal video cameras embedded in portable phones. Since these cameras are not public, they are owned by the individuals and the authorities may or may not get access to them. In effect then, we now live, right now, in city #2. I am prompted to write this by the latest news story out of UCLA, where video images captured by a cellphone camera will be used to document their abuse of a student there. However, it is not just this story that tells me we are in city #2: just recently the Texas Border Patrol has made their cameras accessible to the public and are seeking the public’s assistance in watching the border and reporting any illegal crossings. And here’s another story that shows how an arsonist was captured by video footage.

It may not be the transparent society specifically depicted in the book, but David Brin saw this coming seven years ago. Check out his site and specifically the pages devoted to this topic.


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Online ministry researcher and educator. Associate Professor and Director of Innovation for the Crowell School of Business at BIola University. Author of Ministry in the Digital Age.

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  1. Finding the Boston bomber: the Transparent Society is here | Ministry in the Digital Age - April 22, 2013

    [...] seven years ago, I wrote a blog post on┬áThe Transparent Society, David Brin’s insightful text on the delicate balance between privacy and security. The book, [...]

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