Decentralized Policing

Ry4an rightly took me to task over my advocacy of decentralized policing, also known as turning in your neighbor.

I'd like to defend my opinion and show how I think it differs from informant programs like TIPS.

One concept I'll turn to is David Brin's Transparent Society. I disagree that we should have monitoring in every area of private life because I do not think that will encourage freedom (see A Watched Populance Never Boils by Brad Templeton). However, I believe that it is unavoidable that acts which occur in public will be recorded -- often by the actors themselves. Therefore government activities, reports, meeting notes, laws, debates, court documents, and so on should all be part of the public record; and the public facade of people's lives should not be assumed to be private. If it is in view, someone can take a picture of it with a digital camera and post it on the web. And there's nothing wrong with that.

That brings me to the difference between recording public activities and informant programs. The fundamental difference is that informants cannot be verified. They give the police a tip, and the cops break down your door and take all your stuff whether you're guilty or not. This promotes a culture of fear and resentment which is not healthy for an open society like ours. Sadly, we already see this in America with our unfair "War against Drugs". Now, with the equally open-ended "War against Terrorism", Bush has proposed a similar system called Operation TIPS. I am completely opposed to this. Certainly, people should record and report suspicious activity. But recruiting a corps of citizen informers is beyond the pale.

Compare informants to the California Coastal Records Project. The information CCRP is collecting is all in the public view. It's only now that technology has reached a point where the entire coastline of a state could be photographed and archived. And as technology advances further, CCRP will re-run their survey and Californians will be able to see how their coastline is faring -- and do something about it.