There was a striking irony in a story featured in The Seattle Times about a Seattle coalition fighting for privacy rights as the city gains access to new surveillance technologies: one of the privacy advocates in the photo was wearing Google Glass.
Since its inception, Google Glass has inspired concerns over privacy as it allows users to videotape or take photographs of others in a very inconspicuous manner. Some Seattle establishments even stepped up to ban the new technology.
“We don’t let people film other people or take photos unwanted of other people in the bar because it’s kind of a private place people go,” said 5 Point owner Dave Meinert, who was the first business operator in Seattle to ban Google Glass.
A privacy advocate then wearing Google Glass in a story about privacy concerns struck a chord with KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz, who invited Lee Colleton, with the Seattle Privacy Coalition, onto the show to explain himself.
Colleton has been speaking out about his concern over how the Seattle Police Department will use some surveillance networks that were set up at Alki and in downtown Seattle with a federal grant. He worries such networks could be abused and as such needs strong oversight.
“I want the police to be able to do their job and it’s only when they use technologies that have the potential to infringe on our right to privacy that I become concerned,” he told Rantz.
While Rantz appreciated those concerns, he asked how that falls in line with his own use of a device some have criticized as a product ripe for infringing on other people’s privacy.
“You would readily admit it’s certainly possible for governmental officials, law enforcement officials to abuse the type of technology that allows them to pretty much spy on people without their knowledge,” said Rantz. “Do you also admit that you, Lee Colleton, of the Seattle Privacy Coalition, are also susceptible to that potential type of abuse of trust and privacy due to the Google Glass that you wear?”
“Yes,” said Colleton. “The difference would be, I am not the state. I do not have a badge and the ability to use lethal force in the application of the law. I’m a private individual and so I don’t think that people should be stripped of their rights to record things. I think quite the contrary. We’ve seen from Rodney King up through the modern day of situations in Oakland and elsewhere where people with camera phones and video cameras are able to hold the public officials and police to account for their abuses of power and authorities.”
Colleton said he’d rather see sousveillance, which is defined as the recording of an activity by a participant in the activity, over wide surveillance.
“If I were given the choice of everyone being given a free Google Glass or a device like it that they could wear and use to record everything that they saw, or we would have cameras on every street corner and suspended above every city that photographed and recorded every single thing that happened and uploaded all of that to either the state or to a company that could be compelled to disclose it, I would absolutely choose the former and not the latter because that puts the onus on individuals.”
He said if you think about it, that’s not far from what we have now anyway when you consider the fact that practically everyone carries a camera phone.