Emergency calls with a photo attached: The effects of urging citizens to use their smartphones for surveillance

Gerard Jan Ritsema van Eck, ‘Emergency Calls with a Photo Attached: The Effects of Urging Citizens to Use Their Smartphones for Surveillance’ in Bruce Clayton Newell, Tjerk Timan and Bert-Jaap Koops (eds), Surveillance, Privacy, and Public Space 157-178 (Routledge 2018).

Various kinds of media and metadata, such as pictures, videos, and geo-location, can be attached to emergency reports to the police using dedicated platforms, social networking sites, or general communication apps such as WhatsApp. Although potentially a very useful source of information for law enforcement agencies, this also raises considerable concerns regarding surveillance and privacy in public spaces: It exhorts citizens to establish a supervisory gaze over anyone, at any time, and anywhere.
This chapter analyses these concerns using theories from surveillance studies. It considers the (surprisingly high) applicability of panoptical theories by Foucault and others to the effects of increased visibility of citizens in public spaces. This analysis importantly reveals how discriminatory tendencies might be introduced and exacerbated. Attention is then paid to Deleuze’s ‘societies of control’ and related notions such as database surveillance, surveillance assemblages, and predictive policing. This analysis shows that the enrichment of emergency reports with media and metadata from smartphones can pressurize people into conformity, erode the presumption of innocence, and diminish societal trust. Furthermore, this process will disproportionality affect already disadvantaged groups and individuals. Policy makers are advised to implement enriched emergency reports carefully.

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