Surveillance for good?

Kereru

Sometimes you just want a good news story/blog. But is there anything good about surveillance? Reduced officer misconduct is currently a popular argument in favour of police body cameras, especially after the killing of Michael Brown in Fergusson. Yet this raises valid concerns about privacy and, ironically, new questions over police accountability.

What if we’re not surveilling humans? What if we’re just bird watching?

I’m currently contributing to The Great Kereru Count, a crowdsourced initiative aimed at finding out where New Zealand wood pigeons are found. The actual surveilling that I’m doing is decidedly low-tech, a simple matter of keeping my eyes peeled, but the location data that I collect and input gets digitally mapped.

Location data can be mapped digitally in a manner that is easy to interpret visually. Source:

Location data can be mapped digitally in a manner that is easy to interpret visually. Source: Screen capture from Kereru Count Map.

Digital media encourages more widespread citizen participation and streamlines scientific analysis. Spatial ecologists like Todd Dennis are also using geolocators to remotely gather information about animal movements. These tracking devices are not particularly new, but as the technology gets smaller, cheaper, and all-round more ubiquitous, more spatial ecology work is being conducted.

My hope is that my bird watching will contribute to a better understanding of Kereru biology. Dennis’ work has already produced new information about possum behaviour and kaka distribution that will contribute towards conservation applications. In other words, spatial ecology represents the hope that movement and location data garnered from digital surveillance can contribute to something good.

This possum movement map begs the question, how easily can our movements be tracked? Source: SBS Research

So hooray, surveillance! Of course, it’s not too much of jump from a tracking device strapped to a possum to the GPS in our smartphones. But let’s not spoil the moment. Let’s talk about cats.

Yay, cats! Everyone and their dog loves cats these days. And now, thanks to the wonders of metadata, we have sites like I Know Where Your Cat Lives helpfully mapping the location of feline internet users.

Cats! Source: Screen capture from I Know Where Your Cat Lives

Cats! Source: Screen capture from I Know Where Your Cat Lives

There’s a joke in the name, by the way.

Get it?

I know where your cat lives.

Lol, cats?


Cat map 2

Whisker recognition technology doesn’t always work. Source: Screen capture from I Know Where Your Cat Lives

On the internet no one knows you’re not a cat. Source: Screen capture from I Know Where Your Cat Lives

On the internet no one knows you’re not a cat. Source: Screen capture from I Know Where Your Cat Lives

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