You’re driving down the highway and you get stopped at a checkpoint. You get your ID scanned, you are allowed to pass, and you go on with the rest of your day. But the surveillance camera caught your face and has linked that digital footprint to a web of your personal information. In Kashgar, China, millions of Muslim ethnic minorities are constantly being monitored through these checkpoints in the city. This high-tech surveillance combs through billions of records and retrieves your education, family tree, and previous visits around other checkpoints. The surveillance system could do this for every person that passes through the various checkpoints and cameras planted throughout the city. For the general public, however, crime is significantly reduced and people are less concerned about staying out at night. Though this surveillance could be used for the collective good, Kashgar is at the forefront of segregated surveillance, only monitoring the Muslim population for “suspicious” activity and potential crime.
On the same thread of monitoring crime, some police agencies in the United States are trying to utilize body cameras while they are on duty. In one study in Las Vegas, there was a reported reduction in the use force in incidents because police officers have more transparency and accountability. However, body cameras run into the same ethical issue as the surveillance in Kashgar. Digital “faceprints” caught on these body cameras can be used to find criminals, missing persons, or…anyone. The continuous surveillance of any individual’s whereabouts would be stored on databases belonging to law enforcement. Some cities, such as San Francisco, have already banned government use of facial recognition technology, but in other places the bill is still up for debate.
A very careful balance must be maintained for surveillance to do its job, but not go too far. However, every society, corporation, and person have their own line for “too far.” Surveillance is designed for comfort and safety, but it can quickly escalate to breaching privacy and giving select people too much information and power over others. In some cases, we have the option to makes things private, like using incognito mode or making a private Instagram. But there are edge cases of suspicious activity that culminate with tragedy – what if law enforcement could utilize technology and data to stop a shooting before it happens? Is it possible to strike a balance between being proactive, respectful of privacy, and safe? Government surveillance is a “necessary evil” when we want to safely board airplanes and enforce national security, but the line we want to draw won’t be straight. With so many stakeholders, factors, and new advances in technology, our line will have many loops, holes, and curves that could go on indefinitely.
About The Global Health Soap Box
This blog evokes the spirit of UC Berkeley -- the home of the Free Speech Movement. The Global Heath Soap Box provides a platform for GlobeMed at Berkeley chapter members to explore and discuss their thoughts on relevant public health issues. Whether it's an expansion on what we discuss in ghUs or a topic of interest--The Global Health Soap Box covers a wide range of topics.