Big Brother is Watching. And Maybe That's a Good Thing: Race, Technology & The Future of Policing


Sounding the alarm about technology, policing, and privacy has become an almost daily occurrence. We are told that the government’s use of technology as a surveillance tool is an “insidious assault on our freedom.” That it is “nearly impossible to live today without generating thousands of records about what we watch, read, buy and do—and the government has access to them.” The message is clear: Big Brother is watching, and we should be afraid.  

But the police use of technology does not have to be dystopian. In fact, technology can be privacy and citizenship enhancing. To make this point, the first part of this Olio examines several areas of policing where the deployment of new technologies—from the use of simple smartphone applications like FaceTime and Google Hangout to the deployment of high tech surveillance cameras—can enhance the goals of transparency, accuracy, and legitimacy. 

The second part of this Olio makes a complementary argument: If we truly care about making policing egalitarian and fair to everyone, then that may mean embracing more technology and policing, not less. Indeed, harnessing technology, including surveillance technology, can help de-racialize policing. This turn to technology will not be cost-free. Indeed, one cost will be the redistribution of privacy. This cost, especially to those who already enjoy a surfeit of privacy, may seem great. But even greater should be the possibility that technology can move society closer to egalitarian, race-free policing, and to the goal of true equality before the law.   


Recommended reading from Penguin Press:

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter

“As if to prove his point, Adam Alter has written a truly addictive book about the rise of addiction. Irresistible is a fascinating and much needed exploration of one of the most troubling phenomena of modern times.” —Malcolm Gladwell




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Urban Development: From Reconstruction to Gentrification

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The Death of Art, The Rise of Image

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Composing Beauty: Mapplethorpe’s Quest for Perfection

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