The more important implications of the cameras-everywhere world are about the surveillance society we're creating. This isn't a new idea, of course, as any reader of George Orwell or David Brin knows. But the degree to which pessimists' fears are coming true is remarkable—and terrifying to anyone who cares in the least about liberty.
Online surveillance has gotten most of the recent attention, but it is also very likely that a variety of Big and Little Brothers will record us everywhere we go—eventually, with sound, too. Facial recognition and other techniques will mean that our every move will be trackable. The purveyors and adopters of this stuff like to say we have nothing to fear if we have nothing to hide. That's police-state mentality, but it's getting more common. Benjamin Franklin would be hooted down today for his famous and eternally right admonition, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
As noted, government is not the only one doing the surveilling—citizens are recording their own moves, and those of others. When we use cameras on our cellphones (and, soon, in our Google glasses) to keep an eye on official and corporate doings, we can hold powerful interests at least somewhat more accountable for their acts. This ability, naturally, has led the rich and powerful to conduct a war on photography. Courts are generally making common-sense rulings that recording what the police do on our streets is a First Amendment right. But it’s not clear yet whether corporate interests, such as factory farmers, will ultimately be permitted to ban recording on their own turf to keep us in the dark about their practices.
We citizens will have to adopt countermeasures, meanwhile, to protect ourselves from spies of all kinds, online and in the physical world. I predict, among other things, a resurgence of Groucho Glasses and disguises of various kinds. The police have adapted this kind of countermeasure already in many cases, hiding their faces and badges from public view when they deem it necessary. Here’s another prediction: Look for laws prohibiting us from wearing disguises of any kind in public—with an exception for the police. Then we'll have the worst kind of surveillance state: Only the people in charge will have privacy.
This article arises from Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, visit the Future Tense blog and the Future Tense home page. You can also follow us on Twitter.