Big brother brings comfort

Bruce Schneier, author of Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World. seems to be claiming that all the new surveillance cameras popping up in urban cenres make people feel better – regardless of their effectiveness in actual surveillance or curbing behavior. It may not matter who (if anybody) is even watching and why – the net result is a placebo effect for the subjects. How do you feel with surveillance cameras pointed at you?

About Raj Patel


  • PriyaReply

    I am actually in New York right now and, surprisingly, not as opposed to this idea as I expected myself to be. Surveillance cameras have long been a reality in London and their efficacy in keeping order is usually quite good (despite all the bad press they experienced in the wake of the tube bombings). Of course, most of this efficacy is garnered by the ability to make people feel safe or, as Rajio put it, through a bit of a placebo effect. This isn’t really a new idea though, these cameras simply elicit a demand effect. Because people know that they’re being watched, those that might normally act up act in a more orderly manner. Because people know that ne’er-do-wells are being kept in check, they feel safer. I don’t necessarily feel negative about this as this is how the idea of safety is propogated through a society. For example, having a policeman standing on the corner or having a security guard in a bank spreads a feeling of safety in the same way.

  • RajioReply

    The analogy of the policeman standing on the corner is quite good. I’m curious about the idea of transparency and ownership though – what if cameras residing in public space had video feeds accessible by the public? Would such a scenareo make you feel more or less vulnerable? – There would be more likely hood of someone with an eye on the feed for better or worse.

    …the discussion on suveillance is a pretty rich and interesting one nowadays. for starters check out a book called “ctrl [space]” (read: control space).

  • PriyaReply

    I think that public access to video feeds from cameras in public spaces is more desirable than having that access restricted to a select few in some sort of security loop. Just as anyone could walk down to Times Square and see what was going on, they should also be able to access a camera in Times Square and see what is happening. It’s almost imperative that that kind of information be kept public. It’s when that sort of thing becomes restricted that the placebo effect wanes and people start to feel paranoid.

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