O brave new world, where a Texan sitting at home, looking at a webcam and playing with his Liverpudlian, can fight crime in the United Kingdom. According to this thinly detailed story, a Dallas-based Beatles fan was checking out the action at Liverpool's Mathew Street webam when he witnessed a robbery in progress; he called the local cops, who picked up three suspects at the scene. It certainly exceeds my pretty low expectations of human efficiency that the guy was able to get whatever the Liverpool equivalent of 911 is and get the message over there in time for an arrest, but Jim Anderson has a disturbing take on the incident:
When I read 1984, I always think, How would they ever find enough people to keep track of everyone's everyday movements? When Winston Smith is exercising, for example, he's reprimanded via telescreen for not dipping low enough on a toe-touch. But it would take thousands of people to watch millions of citizens, wouldn't it? Artificial intelligence isn't yet ready for panoptic prime time…
Just like SETI@home, farming out computing power to a grid of otherwise idle PCs, Big Brother could outsource its civic oversight to idle surfers with scads of free time. Problem solved. Somebody call Glenn Reynolds.
This is going to sound like a gussied-up version of Only the Guilty Need Fear, but I don't get that ominous a vibe from this story. Burglary is a crime that actually should be against the law, and swinging Mathew Street doesn't look like a place that meets the judicial standard of an expectation of privacy. If this had resulted in a bust for smoking a doobie or sitting on a milk crate, the chilling implications would be more clear. But even if this case isn't the perfect example, it's possible to imagine the problems that will arise as all the busybodies out there gain more power to get involved in your less-than-savory business.