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View Participatory Panopticon

The participatory panopticon refers to the proliferation of photographic and video content accessible through the Internet to the point that it can be utilized as an up-to-date, authoritative source on all human activities. The term was coined by futurist and IEET Fellow Jamais Cascio to describe how the personal data of multiple individuals can be synthesized into a collective whole. An alternative term for this concept is Participatory Big Brother.

Akin to David Brin’s concept and book The Transparent Society, the idea of the participatory panopticon recognizes both the dangers of intrusions of privacy and the infeasibility of relinquishing the information technologies that make more and more of each individual’s life available both to the government and to the public. Instead of futilely resisting government intrusions into privacy, the participatory panopticon would empower citizens to observe government actions and hold them accountable. Citizens would also have much more access to information about each other.

The ubiquity of cameraphones and videophones is a prime example of the emergence of the participatory panopticon. For example, in 2004 at the Republican National Convention, the importance of cellphone video footage was demonstrated by the overwhelming number of arrests that were overturned when courts saw footage that contradicted police reports of illegal protesting or even doctored police recordings. Cellphone footage has since become even more important, as news agencies rely on it for firsthand accounts of disasters.

Emerging technologies will allow much more ubiquitous documentation. Cameras, video cameras, other recording devices, and information technology to find, gather, and synthesize information will become more and more prevalent. It will also be much easier to store larger amounts of video and audio files, which may allow precise recall of almost any event.

Potential Challenges
While the participatory panopticon is regarded as a desirable outcome by technoprogressives, there are a number of potential problems, particularly if Transparency is not fully implemented. If privacy was greatly reduced but activities of the government were not fully transparent, corruption could occur.

One of the few effective ways to counteract identity theft might be to provide misinformation. By mixing various bits of inaccurate information with real information, others would find it difficult to sort truth from falsehood to reconstruct someone’s identity.

Even as documentation and information-finding technologies increase in ubiquity and ease-of-use, technologies to fabricate video and other evidence are advancing. The ability to create convince fabrications is becoming more relevant, and even without convincing fabrications, maliciously-created videos of a politician, for example, could do irreparable harm in the time before they were identified as fakes.

Several technologies have recently emerged as examples of the participatory panopticon concept. Among these are Google Street View, a feature of Google Maps which provides comprehensive photography of several cities, and Microsoft Live Labs Photosynth, which can combine multiple pictures taken of a single location from the Web into a single, representative 3D reconstruction.

The Participatory Deception
Fast Company: The Transparency Dilemma