Comment 18075

By statius (registered) | Posted February 07, 2008 at 00:30:08

Ryan,

I wonder if you would object to a proposal to have several police constables stationed permanently in Gore Park and other locations downtown? In effect, the presence of a CCTV device is no different. You seem to be labouring under a misconception that there is some sort of recognized right to privacy in public spaces, when in fact courts have consistently affirmed that no such right to privacy exists. An implicit right to privacy exists only where one would have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The line of demarcation here can sometimes be a little tricky to maneoeuvre, but again the test is reasonableness - thus, while it is easy to see that some spaces (e.g. private residences, hotel rooms, etc.) certainly entail an expectation of privacy, other spaces do not fall so neatly within the line (e.g. fitting rooms, public washrooms, bank safety deposit chambers, etc.). I'm afraid spaces like public parks, street corners, and parking lots unequivocally fall outside of the line - that is to say, any expectation of privacy in these spaces would be unreasonable and therefore without the protection of law. In reality, it is fair to say that the state was always already present in these spaces (i.e. we were always already subject to monitoring or at least the possibility thereof). The fact that new technology enables the state to overcome the problem of scarce resources and to assert its presence more effectively thus in no way constitutes an encroachment.

You write: "I think it's bad for the health of a liberal democracy to submit to what I've called 'a Psychometrics-era belief in the power of full-spectrum manipulation to frame reality in one's interests'". This is extremely cryptic and I don't know how to respond to it. I presume you're talking about something like Debord's idea of the "spectacle" - in which case I would respond (very cynically, mind you ) that liberal democracy would indeed be impossible without it.

As for Gerald Wilde's hypothesis of "risk homeostasis", I think you're quite wrong to suggest that the theory has gained general acceptance. In fact, the debate is currently rather fierce, with Wilde's data having been assailed and even turned against him.

That being said, I do believe the theory is intuitively very plausible, but I question whether your referencing of it is really apt given the context of the debate. Wilde's hypothesis best applies to situations of contingent risk - that is, where the behaviour of the subject in one direction or the other directly impacts the riskiness of the activity in question generally. The theory has traditionally been applied to (and critiqued in the context of) driver behaviour, a classic instance of contingent risk where the behavioural decisions of the subject (e.g. to driver faster/slower, to take corners aggressively/gently, etc.) directly increase or decrease the risk of a negative outcome. The theory doesn't hold much water where the risk factor is almost entirely external or (as I implicitly suggested) largely illusory. What effect do you expect the presence of CCTV cameras will have on downtown denizens? Will it make them stay out later at night, count cash in public, or wander down a dark alley? It just seems a bit silly to apply the theory here.

As for your construction of a magical/empirical dichotomy, this is certainly subject to equivocation. Hume famously asserted that inductive (i.e. empirical) reasoning was itself the most pervasive and insidious form of "magical thinking" out there - blind reliance on it being not an antidote to but rather a perpetuation and entrenchment of rank irrationality. The truth of the matter is that there probably is no escape to be had from "magical thinking" - lines of logic never tie together so neatly as we'd like to think.

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