Open data and surveillance are related.

Surveillance means to watch over. We usually think of surveillance not being consensual, but it can be.

For instance:

  • The surveillance society is most obvious in Great Britain, with its CCTV network.
  • There have been rows in Canada between citizens and governments. Toronto’s transit authority, the TTC, installed cameras in streetcars. Toronto citizens then turned their camera phones on TTC workers – sleeping and engaging in other bad behavior.
  • There have been recent troubles in Ottawa about warrantless Internet wiretapping. Publicly available information about the minister responsible data was published in direct response.

Surveillance is traditionally thought of as a government policy instrument used to protect various groups, including itself, from threats. Surveillance is intended to generate an asymmetric competitive advantage. It follows that if some entity knows more than some other entity, they’ll be able to make far better decisions.

The very same technology that has enabled governments and businesses to surveil its citizens and customers is being used by citizens and customers to surveil their governments and businesses.

Really open data will be about more of that. It won’t all be Personally Identifiable, but with some effort, some of it will. There’s going to be a lot more of it going forward. In part, we’re surveilling ourselves through social networks. In part, we’re inventing new means for very specific purposes (running, biking, health).

Really open data will require a slightly more nuanced understanding of surveillance, privacy, and the relationship between citizens and each other.

Update:  Mozilla just released a product that enables you, yourself, to watch the watchers!


I’m Christopher Berry.
I tweet about analytics @cjpberry
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