A global open-circuit television system going live?
Jeffrey Rosen is a professor of law at George Washington University. He is a graduate of Harvard College; Oxford University and Yale Law School. The L.A. Times called him "the nation's most widely read and influential legal commentator."
I was at a conference at Google not long ago, and the head of public policy said he expected that before long, Google and Facebook will be asked to post online live feeds to all the public and private surveillance cameras in the world, including mobile cameras mounted on drones. Imagine that Facebook responds to public pressure and decides to post live feeds, so they can be searched online, as well as archiving the video in the digital cloud.
Once the new open-circuit system goes live, anyone in the world could log onto the Internet, select a particular street view on Facebook’s maps site, and zoom in on a particular individual. The user could then back-click on that individual to retrace her steps since she left the house in the morning or forward-click on her to see where she was headed. Using Facebook’s integrated face recognition application, users could click on a stranger walking down any street in the world, plug his image into the Facebook database to identify him by name, and then follow his movements from door to door.
Since cameras are increasingly ubiquitous in public and commercial spaces, the result would be the possibility of identification and surveillance of all citizens virtually anywhere in the world—and by anyone. In an enthusiastic launch, imagine that Mark Zuckerberg or his successor as CEO of Facebook names the new round-the-clock surveillance system Open Planet.
Open Planet is not a technological fantasy. Most of the architecture for implementing it already exists. In fact, it’s possible using existing technology to reconstruct someone’s movements 24/7 – from our EZ pass records to the locational information emitted from our cell phones, which are the equivalent of personal tracking devices. The German Green party politician Malte Spitz sued Deutche Telecom and got six months of his cell phone locational tracking data. By combining this geolocational data with information available on the Internet about his twitter feeds and blog entries, the newspaper Die Zeit was able to create an interactive map that showed where he was every day for six months.
What are the costs of a world in which all of our public movements can be recorded, archived, and permanently retrieved? The most immediate cost is the impossibility of escaping your digital past. Consider the case of Stacy Snyder. In 2006, the 25-year-old teacher in training from Pennsylvania posted a photo on her MySpace page that showed her at a party wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup, with the caption “Drunken Pirate.” After discovering the page, her supervisor at the high school told her the photo was “unprofessional,” and the dean of Millersville University School of Education, where Snyder was enrolled, said she was promoting drinking in virtual view of her under-age students. As a result, days before Snyder’s scheduled graduation, the university denied her a teaching degree. Snyder sued, arguing that the university had violated her First Amendment rights by penalizing her for her (perfectly legal) after-hours behavior. But the courts disagreed and Snyder never became a teacher; today, she is working in a different profession entirely.
When historians of the future look back on the perils of the early digital age, Stacy Snyder may well be an icon. The problem she faced is only one example of a challenge that, in big and small ways, is confronting millions of people around the globe: how best to live our lives in a world where the Internet records everything and forgets nothing — where every online photo, status update, Twitter post and blog entry by and about us can be stored forever. With Web sites like Failbook, which collects and shares embarrassing personal revelations from Facebook users, ill-advised photos and online chatter are coming back to haunt people months or years after the fact.
Should there be a legal right to escape your past on the Internet? In America, courts generally say no. The Open Planet system, if operated by the government, might be challenged as an unreasonable search of our persons and effects, since it reveals so much information about our public movements. But American courts have come close to holding that we have no legally protected privacy expectations in public places. In Europe, by contrast, the European Union has proposed a new Right to Be Forgotten on the Internet, which would allow citizens to request the removal not only of data they have posted themselves but also of data about them – including photos, status updates, or tweets – posted by others, even after it has been widely distributed.
In Europe, the intellectual roots of the right to be forgotten can be found in French law, which recognizes le droit à l’oubli — or the “right of oblivion” — a right that allows a convicted criminal who has served his time and been rehabilitated to object to the publication of the facts of his conviction and incarceration. In America, by contrast, publication of someone’s criminal history is protected by the First Amendment, leading Wikipedia to resist the efforts by two Germans convicted of murdering a famous actor to remove their criminal history from the actor’s Wikipedia page.
As European regulators work out the details of the proposed right to be forgotten, we are on the verge of witnessing a dramatic clash between the European and American visions of free speech and privacy. Americans are concerned about the costs to public discourse, when people can selectively delete themselves from the Internet (An Argentinean pop star, for example, objected to racy pictures of herself that had been voluntarily posted and widely distributed. When an Argentinean judge ordered Yahoo Argentina to remove the racy photos, Yahoo responded that selective deletion was too technologically difficult; instead, the company removed all references to the pop star from the Yahoo Argentina search engine.) French regulators, by contrast, believe individuals should be able to control their image on the Internet. Given the technological difficulties of selective deletion, my own belief is that technological solutions are more effective than legal ones: Facebook, Google, and Yahoo would do well to implement “expiration dates” for data, that allow people to specify, when they post a photo or a text or tweet, whether they want it to be accessible for a day or a month or a year.
Regardless of which side of the legal debate you favor, it’s obvious that as all of us stumble over the challenges of living in a world without forgetting, we need to learn new forms of empathy, new ways of defining ourselves without reference to what others say about us and new ways of forgiving one another for the digital trails that will follow us forever.
Pour citer cette ressource :
Jeffrey Rosen, "A global open-circuit television system going live?", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), mars 2013. Consulté le 09/12/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/a-global-open-circuit-television-system-going-live-