Check in / Check Out – Design Principles for Camera Surveillance

Here the first of my English translations of the design principles outlined in the Dutch book by Rathenau about the digitalization of society and its implications.

The book is quite good and I think these design principles deserve a wider audience. I’ll get to noting down the ones from chapter 0001 in a bit, now just the ones from the (second) chapter 0010 which was unfortunately of somewhat meager interest.

Camera surveillance can serve as an example for other applications in the public space. There is a legal framework in which camera surveillance is allowed, which functions properly and can serve as an example for other technologies. In the ’90s camera surveillance was a means that was subject to public and political debate. Based on these discussions, legislation has been instituted that limits citizens’ privacy violations. You can’t put cameras on the street without adhering to certain rules. There are also clear rules what can be done with captured data from which we can distill the following design principles.

  • Privacy in public is a problem case in and of itself.
    You are visible for everybody and you cannot invoke the right of protection of the personal living sphere when you’re out and about. In the public domain the collective interests of safety and order trump the individual right of privacy.
  • Who does not commit any offenses should stay anonymous.
    Even though it is possible to watch everybody using camera surveillance, it is not necessary to identify everybody. Only if it is necessary for police work should an image be linked to a person.
  • Watch the watchers.
    As information becomes more and more centralized, it gives more oversight and power to those that watch over those being watched. According to the rules of the panopticon, this increase needs to be combined with a corresponding increase of control over the center. Camera surveillance also has synoptic elements. Technology needs to be used by citizens who want to check on government as much as by the government to check on its citizens.

This is a quick and rough translation but it should serve most applications.

The legislation that works properly that is referred to above is the one that’s in place in the Netherlands. In how far that is the case can be subject to debate, but most people in the Netherlands do not object to camera surveillance, so there is democratic support for camera surveillance.

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