The Bikecast Episode #30: Watching the Watchers

Surveillance, usually associated with the state as a tool of oppression, is increasingly being used to remove the veil of legitimacy and even-handedness from brutal state crimes against individuals. Making videos and photographing state agents has had a sufficient impact that it is now being generally criminalized by some states–it’s already specifically criminalized with respect to federal buildings, government infrastructure and military offices. While little can be done to stop the state arresting people for whatever its agents choose, criminalizing the observation of interactions between the powerful and the powerless is indicative of the morally bankrupt nature of state institutions (as though further indications were necessary).


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People typically avoid “criminal” behavior when they’re being observed[1]. This instinctual truth first came into my conscious mind around the time of the criminal assault on Rodney King and the secession of Chiapas. The Rodney King beating gave us a video representation of what existed behind newspaper articles about alleged police abuse. Chiapas demonstrated the power that observers (in this case the international press) lend to the oppressed and threatened[2].

The proliferation of recording devices and of outlets for the distribution of photography and video drives the potential for greater protection from arbitrary state violence. This seems to have come to a head in the last several years. There is now a steady stream of media covering police abuses (and occasionally, the abuses of the military).

As a result, the state is “cracking down” on photography, attempting to graft protection and anonymity for their thugs onto national security [sic] legislation. This trend and the resulting activism against and challenges to it are heavily documented (see the references below).

I’m unusually optimistic about the possibility of ever increasing surveillance of the state. Despite the draconian measures it seems they are willing to take, I can’t see how they can keep ahead of the trend towards smaller, more covert, and more widely available cameras. They already lack the ability to stop the viral spread of video and photography of police crimes on social networks and media sharing sites. It feels (to me) like something’s got to give and I don’t think the state can bring enough violence to bear to stop the spread of filming–especially not while they’re being watched.

Nevertheless, officials will take steps in this direction until it becomes absolutely politically untenable–and that means alot of pain and suffering (and jail time) for the innocent while a suitably politically active majority slowly assembles to humbly request reform of the law[3].

Resources:
Photography is Not a Crime: http://carlosmiller.com/
Copblock (apologies for getting the website wrong on the podcast): http://www.copblock.org/
Blue Must be True: http://bluemustbetrue.com/
The Agitator: http://www.theagitator.com/

In the bikecast I mention that it’s strange that, with all the surveillance that the state has, somehow they rarely catch themselves when they commit criminal acts. The cameras always seem to be off or the tapes accidentally erased. The agitator examines this.

  1. [1] Yes, I realize there are people who intentionally tape the commission of crimes.
  2. [2] I also make mention in the bikecast of the narrative that U.S. news media helped end the Vietnam “conflict” by providing nightly visual representations of events there.
  3. [3] What a patently absurd way for a society to organize.
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