As one small part of its CLEAR database project, the Chicago Police have started providing photos online of those arrested “for either patronizing or soliciting for prostitution.”
The intent is to shame them, of course, and it’s hardly novel (to take but one example, Georgia publishes the names of repeat DUI offenders) or even, I’ll bet, terribly effective. After all, though that page has been viewed more than half a million times (that retro counter’s a nice touch, eh?) how many people will actually make a point to visit the CPD site that frequently?
Far more interesting — and worrying — are new impromptu groups, many made possible by camera phones nearly as ubiquitious as the Internet, which spring up around some particular place or issue. These can be relatively benign, as when Yahoo! employees photograph co-workers who park poorly, or slightly more worrying, as with The Shitty Tippers Database.
But things can also tip out of hand, as the woman who will long be known as “Dog Poop Girl” learned after failing to clean up after her pooch on the subway. As her image and then personal details appeared on the Internet, some saw it as just desserts, others as an invasion of privacy.
How far should we go? Where’s the line between collective coaxing and harassment? I have no idea. But isn’t it interesting that as far as the “surveillance society” is concerned, you might have less to fear from the man behind the curtain than from the kid over there with the RAZR.