iSee Project: The Scary Scale of Surveillance

As a kid in Catholic school, I learned that we each had a guardian angel who looked out for us every minute of every day. I remember worrying about doing bad things while he watched, although I also remember making room for my guardian angel in bed. (Maybe I figured I could score my way to heaven.)

We all know that video cameras are peering at us all the time — like guardian angels — although we don’t realize how many thousands of cameras follow us through a typical day. Some eyes are governmental, many are private. All ostensibly have been installed for our own protection, with the best of intentions, for the common good. And all violate our private space by recording our every move without our knowledge and really without our informed consent.

It’s bad enough when the cables channel our souls to minimum wage rent-a-cops who aren’t paying much attention to their screens, but surveillance is gradually being outsourced to artificially intelligent robots who never blink, who never forget, and who make assumptions about us based on prejudice — which is just another term for pattern recognition.

Iaa_1An anonymous group of artists and technologists called the Institute of Applied Autonomy runs a web site that helps users reduce their chances of being watched. The iSee Project pinpoints public space cameras discovered by volunteers and then plots walking routes that minimize exposure. In the iSee map at left (click for larger size), the streets of downtown Manhattan are decorated with hundreds of camera points. I count 30 cameras outlining the New York Federal Reserve Bank at 33 Liberty Street. (Remember the 1995 Bruce Willis caper flick Die Hard: With a Vengeance?)

A short piece in Technology Review describes how Tad Hirsch, a research assistant at the MIT Media Lab, has adapted the web app for a PDA, so you can tap out the path of least surveillance as you stroll down Broadway. I think I’ll just wear a ski mask whenever I go outside from now on.

(Thanks to TheRoBlog.)

What Others Are Saying

  1. Guitef Jun 25, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    Surveiller les caméras de surveillance

    Un autre exemple de la communauté virtuelle à la défense des droits de l’individu : iSee, un projet où les volontaires ciblent les caméras de surveillance et qui propose un parcours pour les contourner (source 1, source 2). Un chercheur du…

  2. Rob Nov 12, 2004 at 1:56 pm

    Thank you for your comments on my blog. I have posted some additional thoughts in the comments to my original entry here: