Sunday, November 11, 2007

One teenager's dilemma (and ours)

I heard this on the radio the other day ...

The stepfather of a teenage boy, concerned about the stepson's driving, has a GPS installed in his car. The GPS reports back to its mothership and Dad can log in to check up. It will also email Dad if the car exceeds a given speed. This happens once, resulting in a 10-day loss of car keys.

Not surprisingly, the stepson is not entirely thrilled with the arrangement.

Then one day the stepson gets a speeding ticket. Radar has him going 60+ in a 45. GPS says he was doing the speed limit. As the radio story airs, Dad is in the process of challenging the ticket in court, on the grounds that the GPS is much more reliable than radar. The stepson still hates the GPS, but admits that, just this once, maybe it's not such a bad thing.

And there's the whole privacy dilemma in a nutshell: We'd love to have the cameras running when it benefits us, but the rest of the time, whether we're misbehaving or just being or normal boring human selves, we'd just as soon be left alone.

This is not an entirely new problem, of course. Privacy concerns have been around as long as people have lived around each other, which is pretty much as long as there have been people.

Modern privacy concerns are not so much about whether your neighbor knows what you're up to, but about who gets to be your neighbor and the balance of power between eavesdropper and eavesdroppee. From time to time, technology disrupts that balance (anyone remember party lines?) and society has to work out new rules to reclaim it.

One could make a reasonable theoretical argument that in a rational society, everybody benefits if everybody knows everything about everyone. But society is made up of people and people aren't rational. If the only choices are complete surveillance and complete privacy, I would tend to side with the stepson on this one and go for privacy. Those aren't the only choices, though.


Anonymous said...

LIGHTNING is not supposed to strike twice, but the Simotas family of West Pennant Hills have given traffic police a couple of jolts that will make them heroes of any motorist who has copped a doubtful speeding fine.
See here >>

Anonymous said...

GPS does beat a RADAR speed camera.
In australia this happened not once but twice so far. The GPS recorded the actual speed of the vehicle and was produced in court. The magistrate accepted the fact that the device was more accurate than the Radar the Police were using and dismissed the speeding charges See these three websites for the full stories. Cut and paste into your web browsers.