Last Thursday, we were lucky enough to have Lord Guy Black, Executive Director of the Telegraph Media Group, as our speaker at the Professional Ethics Network.
There are many harms which are often attributed to surveillance, such as the challenge to privacy. Perhaps less obvious are social sorting (the division of society haves and have-nots based around surveillance), the dangers of abuse and mistakes, and a fear of control. Having grown up in West Berlin, making occasional trips across Checkpoint Charlie to the eastern part of the city, I particularly resonate with the harm known as “chilling effects.” This refers to the situation which arises when the presence of surveillance deters (or “chills”) people from carrying out activities which we see as enshrined in our basic rights.
I want to suggest that there is a further chilling effect which has not, to my knowledge, been discussed in any depth. This is moral chill. By this I mean the deterrence from making moral (as opposed to prudential) mistakes in life and learning from them. Furthermore, I want to argue that surveillance incurs moral chill.
We all make mistakes in life. This is often how we learn, our mistakes being very effective tutors. These mistakes are often prudential: I drink a cup of tea too soon after it is poured and scold my mouth. Next time I’ll be more cautious in testing the temperature before I drink. Other mistakes are moral: we lie and get caught out. We may gossip about colleagues, although we know that we really shouldn’t. For the most part we know what is the right and what is the wrong thing to do. The problem is that we often chose to do the latter rather than the former. However, it is through making these mistakes that we learn.
Lifelogging is an activity which started with Steve Mann in the 1980s. Mann, a Professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto, has developed wearable computing equipment. The idea is essentially that the lifelogger records every moment of their life on video. The early practice of wearing a camera for this purpose was interesting but, as can be seen from the pictures, was initially at least neither subtle nor suitable for the long term.
Increasingly this is changing, though. Sam Wren-Lewis, who also writes for this blog, recently sent me a link to this prototype camera from Sweden called Memoto. It can be worn on the lapel and will take still pictures every 30 seconds, uploading them to the internet in real time. It is sufficiently small and surreptitious that it will largely go unnoticed. The upshot is that many of the people it photographs will not know that they are being seen by people online. The manufacturers of Memoto believe that the privacy problems are taken care of by the company not harvesting the data. Memories of Google’s street view fade fast…
I was interested this morning to then compare this with the “Creepy Cameraman” (CC) of Seattle. This man walks around the city with a video recording all that is around him, similar to many lifeloggers. He differs from most, though, in that he is both obvious and obnoxious as he does this. Furthermore, he is specifically recording strangers going about their own business rather than recording his own life in which strangers may be incidental.
This summer witnessed the first set of results from the UK’s National Well-being Index. It is hoped that information from the index will enable the government to have a better idea of how the nation is doing, beyond standalone measures such as GDP. But can our happiness or well-being be measured? And, if so, should governments use this kind of information in forming policy? The IDEA CETL hosted a major international inter-disciplinary conference on this issue at the University of Leeds in July 2012. The conference was entitled “Measures of Subjective Well-being for Public Policy: Philosophical Perspectives”. It included several international speakers and commentators, from philosophers and psychologists to economists and public policy practitioners. And it was a big success. Feedback from the conference has been very positive (watch this space for related future projects!) and many of the papers from the conference will be featured in a forthcoming special issue of the International Journal of Well-being.
The good news is that you can experience the conference presentations for yourself, from the comfort of your very own home/office. All of the conference presentations can now be view online, on YouTube, here. Enjoy!
A fascinating piece of research has just been published by a team in Finland. The Helsinki Privacy Experiment sought to measure the long-term effects of ubiquitous surveillance in homes. The surveillance involved CCTV with microphones, keylogging of the main home computer, all computer network traffic, smartphone use, TV and DVD use, and customer loyalty cards, and was conducted on 12 subjects in 10 households over a six month period. The subjects underwent an initial 2-hour interview, completed monthly questionnaires concerning their experiences during the experiment and took part in an interview at the end of the six months.
This is of particular interest to me as, over the years I’ve been studying the ethics of surveillance, I’ve heard about the negative impact of surveillance on individuals and society. Privacy violation is an obvious concern, as is the sense of vulnerability through exposure to those watching or listening, and the possible exposure of legitimate but secretive activities (such as planning a surprise party). These are all concerns at the level of the individual. The impact on surveillance on society is said to be greater still, with “chilling effects” (a term taken, I believe, from the US judicial system) such that one is deterred from engaging in democratically legitimate acts of dissent against the state. There are also concerns about the stifling of creativity and implicit encouragement of uniformity as individuals choose not to stand out in a crowd, and the danger of mistakes being made by the state a la Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or, more soberly, the recent case in the UK of Adam Scott.
These are all serious concerns. However, I do question how many of them are necessary to surveillance. That is, are these inevitable consequences of high levels of surveillance, likely consequences, or merely possible consequences? How much surveillance is needed to evince these impacts? Furthermore, to what extent are these the impacts of surveillance, and to what extent the impacts of those using surveillance? That is to say, there was surveillance in the German Democratic Republic and there was evidence of chilling effects and the other ills noted above. Yet were these ills the result of the surveillance or the result of the police state operating the surveillance? Had the Stasi been genuinely benevolent and not killed, tortured and ruined the lives of the non-compliant, would the surveillance in the GDR have been so chilling?
Hugo Radice, who participated in the workshops on ethics in financial services that I organised last year at IDEA, will be giving a talk on banking reform in York on 3rd April.
Hugo is a Life Fellow in the School of Politics & International Studies at the University of Leeds. The details of his talk are below, and all are welcome:
Taming the banks: is the new regulatory framework fit for purpose?
Yorkshire Philosophical Society
7.30 pm, Tuesday 3rd April, Tempest Anderson Hall, York
(for details see http://www.yorksphilsoc.org.uk/)
In September 2011, the Independent Commission on Banking under Sir John Vickers presented its final recommendations on reforms to improve stability and competition in UK banking. The most prominent proposal was the ‘ringfencing’ of risky investment activities, so that the mundane retail banking needs of businesses and households would not be threatened by future financial crises like that of 2007-9. Outside the UK, the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis that erupted in 2010 has revealed the continuing vulnerability of banking everywhere to the vagaries of financial markets, while the Basel III negotiations to provide a robust global regulatory framework for banks have proceeded at a snail’s pace. Meanwhile, on the fringes of the official debates, many critics are asking whether the present proposals can deliver a banking system oriented to social needs, rather than the redistribution of wealth and income from the poor to the rich.
This talk will examine the origins and consequences of the recent crisis; put the existing reform proposals in the context of broader changes in global capitalism and its governance; and outline more radical proposals to address financial exclusion and bring banking under popular democratic control.
In September 2011 I wrote a post on my website offering support to Ed Milliband’s idea of imposing a code of conduct on bankers, to be backed up with the threat of ‘striking off’ those that contravene the code. In a comment on that post I was challenged to justify this support, given the disanalogies between ‘bankers’, and doctors or lawyers. Having re-read my reply I thought some of the ideas there merited their own post, so here it is!
It is certainly true that the activity of banking is quite different from that of medicine or even law, in part this is because it is an activity undertaken by organisations rather than individuals; in part because the acceptance and management of risk (as opposed to its elimination) is a central part of banking activity. Read the rest of this entry »
As energy related greenhouse gas emissions are expected to double by 2050, low carbon technologies are given much investment and support by governments across the world. One of the more proven and reliant options is the installation of a hydroelectric dam across a river which generates electricity using water held in a reservoir or lake. However, there is great concern that such projects, which are designed to meet the increasing energy demands of society, can lead to the displacement of indigenous wildlife, destruction of habitats and the eviction of existing communities. Facing this, is the reduction of our emissions to avoid climate change and still meet rising energy demands justified?
A question which is at least as important as the one in the title, of course is ‘how should NHS trusts approach ethical decisions?’
Both questions are addressed by a new report which has been produced by the IDEA CETL, working with colleagues in the University’s Centre for Innovation in Health Management (CIHM).
The major output from this research is a checklist for ethical decision-making, which we recommend implementing in real situations. It is only through practice that NHS staff can improve their ethical decision-making.
In our report we have set out some simple, practical advice that can help NHS organisations to make better, more effective ethical decisions. We have also have looked in detail at specific ethical issues – fairness, justice, equity, equality, openness, honesty, transparency – which will play a role in decisions made by all trusts at some point.
As well as NHS trusts, the report may be of interest to any organisation looking to improve its ethical decision-making effectiveness.
Find out more information, and download both long and short versions of the report as PDFs, here.
In a previous post here, Kevin Macnish looked at the ethics of the phone hacking scandal as it broke, and the waves of revelations which had resulted in the announcement that the News of the World was to close. Since then we’ve had the resignation of Rebecca Brooks, Steve Coogan taking down journalist Paul McMullen on Newsnight, James Murdoch protesting his ignorance while his dad cops a pie to the face, Lord Leveson looking understandably bewildered by the existence of Heat Magazine, and the Guardian apparently admitting that the allegation that News of the World journalists deleted messages from Milly Dowler’s phone – for many the most appalling of the initial allegations – was probably not accurate. This ongoing cavalcade of shock and whimsy is, ironically, the kind of thing the tabloids love. Moral outrage, celebs galore, pies in the face; if they didn’t happen also to be the villains of the piece, this would be the perfect tabloid story. It’s all so distracting that it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Well, it’s not actually, because that’s been endlessly debated too, but never mind. That there was a failure of ethics, a breakdown of integrity, is not really in doubt. There are however some broader ethical questions raised by all this. Here are three of them. Read the rest of this entry »