Technology has developed tools that identify you, display your activities, track your location and even attempt to delve into your thoughts. Sixty years ago, George Orwell projected development of technology by government to maintain control of people.
What Orwell hadn't foreseen was the potential for individual citizens to use technology to maintain control of their government.
There are no systems to mimic the social controls envisioned in "1984," while steps to establish surveillance systems continue to be hotly debated. On Oahu, a proposal to place 30 closed circuit television cameras in key locations during the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation sessions has moved forward, but not without questions over how government enforcement agencies intend to utilize the images.
At the same time, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii made clear that individuals protesting the APEC meeting in Hawaii have the same rights to video and photograph police and government officials.
Correcting a report in a student newspaper, ACLU-Hawaii issued a statement noting: "The ACLU has no position on APEC . . . Regardless of what people are protesting, the ACLU was at the Festival of Resistance simply to offer information about people's fundamental, individual rights - the right to protest, their rights if they encounter police, their right to make video or audio documentation of police encounters." (www.facebook.com/acluhawaii)
The statement verifies that tools for transmitting and recording information can be utilized equally by government and individuals. That is a dilemma for both civil libertarians and for government.
If there is a right for individuals to record the actions of government agents in public places, there is equal authority for government to record activities of individuals in public places.
It's a sharing that not all parties are prepared to recognize.
In Great Britain, where government has installed more than 4.2 million closed circuit television cameras, social surveillance is an ongoing issue.
"Surveillance is two-sided and its benefits must be acknowledged. Yet at the same time, risks and dangers are always present in large-scale systems and of course power does corrupt or at least skews the vision of those who wield it," a British Information Commissioner report says. ("A report on the surveillance society," September 2006, www.ico.gov.uk)
Data collection promotes efficient management of people, products and systems - such as recording vehicle license plates on congested roads or flow of passengers on mass transit systems. But the report adds, "what spells 'efficiency' for one person spells 'social control' for another; this is particularly true for strongly personalized systems like ID records retrieval."
The British report covers a range of issues, including commercial use of consumer data, saying surveillance goes beyond intrusion on privacy to include issues of consent and individual choices. The individual whose data is collected has no control over its use.
There's no prohibition against taking photographs or videos of people in public places. But if a stranger began to video people in a public place, most people would be annoyed. Some might become confrontational, knowing they have no control over use of the images.
That was apparently the case for a Maui police officer responding to a report of an assault, facing a complainant who persisted in video recording the officer. ("Maui Time publisher Tommy Russo assaulted by MPD," April 14, 2011, www.mauitime.com)
Photographs and video can support police as corroborating evidence. But police also know that photographs and video can be used against them, when cameras capture them in a confrontation as occurred with Russo or more recently in New York when a police officer was videotaped pepper spraying protesters.
The technology works for both sides.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.