Earlier today I tweeted the following message. For the acronym-deficient, ‘OH’ stands for ‘overheard’:
Here’s the brief conversation that ensued:
Does this strike anybody else as just a little creepy? I should know better, but I was a little taken aback. It wasn’t my intent to report a potential crime, to “let them know” as Sgt. Seaman put it. I was just recounting a little nugget of an interesting overheard conversation.
And there’s no question as to whether these guys were actually going to vandalize a bunch of cameras. They were, if you’ll forgive the phrase, just shooting the shit. They were really just talking. These were two heavy-set, balding middle-management types who, to look at them, have never dared disturb the universe.
Not Carefully Mitigated Enough
I should know better because I’m voluntarily broadcasting updates to a bunch of people over the web. And I’ve been doing that sort of thing for quite a while. I always tell people, blog (or tweet or whatever) like everyone is listening in.
I’ve been largely comfortable with the carefully mitigated content I push to the web. And yet this little incident gave me pause. The irony is that the Transit Police’s monitoring of Twitter is very like what closed-circuit cameras do. The authorities are using technology to seek out wrong doing. I’ve never been particularly comfortable with CC cameras in public spaces, and so this Twitter monitoring weirds me out a bit, too.
Not to sound all paranoid, but it would be easy enough for the Transit Police to determine roughly where I was when I tweeted that message. Then they could use video from inside the train to identify where I was sitting, and thus identify the two clueless dudes who were talking nearby. I’m pretty sure the Transit Police won’t do that, but I don’t ever want to be complicit in that possibility.
What’s the Lesson?
Take care when publicly publishing any messages that might be of interest to the authorities. Assume that they’re listening.
I don’t write this to demonize law enforcement. I think they have a tough job and, like any other group of people, most of them do it well most of the time. Their failures are necessarily public, and that doesn’t help their reputation.
Still, we live in an increasingly surveilled world. The authorities don’t need my help in watching over us.