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Do you enjoy being watched?

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The author of a new article on surveillance in The Walrus thinks you do. Hal Niedzviecki says that while the thought of being monitored used to disturb us (think George Orwell and Nineteen Eighty-Four), cameras and other surveillance techniques are so prevalent today that we’ve stopped noticing them. And, he says, when we do notice we don’t really care (case in point: when it was announced that 10,000 cameras would be installed in Toronto’s subways, streetcars and buses, he asserts that citizens “shrugged and went about their business”).

What’s more, he points out that video cameras are only one means of surveillance — and that many people don’t realize this. Think of Air Miles programs that collect information on your shopping habits (and give you points in return) and social networking sites that let you update your “status”, enabling you to let people know what you are doing as often as you like. Because we enjoy these activities, and because some of them bring us pleasure, Niedzviecki makes the argument that we actually enjoy being watched.

He also contends that because we enjoy many of these activities, and because our current focus is more on protection against terrorism than on privacy and state totalitarianism, we either see surveillance as a good thing (protection) or we get so used to it that we don’t see it at all. He goes into detail about the implications of this.

And while some of the author’s concerns might be a bit of a stretch (he refers to Hitler’s actions as “the world’s first genocide by database”), it does make sense to think twice when you are revealing personal information online and when out in the real world doing seemingly simple things like buying milk. And if you have questions about how you are being watched you can always refer to OPC guidelines on video surveillance in the public sector and in the private sector.

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