I work for a company that makes security equipment: video surveillance cameras, video recording equipment, access control equipment, etc. Our business is to protect life and property for the folks that purchase our equipment. I am also a part owner in a business that offers global asset tracking. Both are successful businesses, especially during this era of fear and uncertainty in the world.

Over the summer I had a college intern working for me, and we had several good discussions on the issues surrounding surveillance and monitoring. My intern was of the opinion that businesses and property owners must have restrictions on how much monitoring they can do. My opinion is that if you own the property, you can do with it what you want. I hold this opinion because I believe in the free market system's ability to correct for bad behavior. As a homeowner, I believe I should have full authority to plant as many cameras, microphones, RFID tags, or anything else on my property that I want, and without asking permission from anyone else. I extend this same mentality to private businesses, who should have authority to install cameras, microphones, and track their assets however they like. If the business does this in a way that customers or employees don't like, they are free to go buy / work somewhere else. My intern was worried that really big companies or really wealthy people might be able to do really bad things, and while I agree that in the short term a corrupt, powerful business could do harmful things, in the long run the market will win out.

I think I really threw my intern for a loop when I said the same rules should not apply to our government. We afford our government special privileges which mean that our free market doesn't really have any influence on the government. Although we do vote for our representatives, we do not get to "buy" a new government when our existing government no longer suits us (I hear some snickering...cynics :-p ). Since we afford our government special privileges, we also need to have oversight. One specific example is in the case of wire taps. Before we allow our government to "install a microphone" aka wiretap a phone line, we require that the government submit a very good reason to a judge so that a warrant can be issued for the wiretap. This is a check and balance to prevent our government from wiretapping at will, which could be utilized as a mechanism to wrest control of the government away from the people of the country and to put that control in the hands of the few already in power.

Are these contradictory positions? I don't think so. As I said, we afford the government special privileges that are not afforded to private businesses and individuals. For that reason, the rules that apply to an individual or private business are not the same rules that apply to our government.


Sam said...

What's your opinion about the possible future where everyone is carrying around a small digital camera so that facial recognition software + cheap storage (and/or perhaps credit card RFID chips) makes it possible to track everyone at every time?

Adam said...

My opinion is that, if it is your personal camera and you are on your own property, you may do with it whatever you like. If that allows you to capture faces and store them, I don't see a problem with that. The catch is, on your property. So if you walk into a mall, if the mall has a policy against that sort of thing, then you have to make a decision. Either you stop recording and patronize the mall, or you find other places to shop that permit you to record. If you violate the policy of the business, that business has a right to seek restitution from you which would include the ownership of your "stolen" video and data.

What about streets, parks, and other public property? Again, you technically are on your own property (public) and so you would be personally free to record whatever you like. Would the government have any rights to your private recordings? Not at all.

So to the last part, the capability to track everyone at every time...that would either require a incredible effort on your (individual) part, or a coordinated effort of massive private business. RICO laws prevent some of that sort of mass scale collaboration by businesses, but it could still potentially happen. It's an unsavory thought, but I have faith in the free market and public to correct for abusive behavior like that.

Jade Mason