I think we have an opportunity here to build on a culture of handling contentious topics in a way that leaves us healthier as a community for it.
So, to try that, here are my views on the issue. I apologize to all for feeling the need to open this topic up. I reserve the right to be wrong, and am open to changing my views.
I see privacy as the ability to separate your info from those who seek it. Privacy gives you the ability to separate from the majority, have unpopular opinions, and make mistakes without fear of judgment. It’s what allows individuality to exist, and is what makes diversity of thought possible.
On the other hand, surveillance concentrates power, moving it from the individual to the authority, the many to the few, the watched to the watcher.
When I first started coming to Noisebridge, you could come and go without that information being recorded or made public. That is no longer the case. Noisebridge no longer satisfies what I’ve heard called the “crazy ex” test: if someone had an ex who is a Member (the highest ranking individual(s)), they could use the space while remaining anonymous to the ex. Specifically, if they came at a different time than the ex, they could conceal who they were and when they came.
There are some reasons to consider increased surveilance now: our location at Noisebridge has changed to a riskier neighborhood, and we’re on the ground floor. Times have also changed–we are used to being on cameras for remote work, and all along the block we are almost definitely recorded by others’ cameras.
I feel for those who might see this as splitting hairs along philosophical lines, whereas in practicality cameras are quick, easy, and give us peace of mind that things are ok at the space when we aren’t there so we can focus on other things.
I think that the costs however are high, and often do not show up until further down the line.
Firstly, privacy is where creativity lives. I like the example of an art museum: these places have cameras because there are lots of high value objects, lots of strange people, and it makes sense to have a system that while perhaps it doesn’t fully prevent anyone from acts of theft or damage, it works to curtail behavior through deterrence. Now imagine how the art in that museum would change if the cameras had been there on the artists at the place the art was made. I think it would suffer from the restriction of our expression that we naturally undergo when we know we are being watched, and subconsciously try to mould our behaviour to be in line with what we perceive the expectations of the watchers to be.
I think of Noisebridge as a creative space. I don’t think it’s black and white; rather, to the extent that we feel watched around the space, we will restrict ourselves in thought and action, and to that extent our creativity there will suffer.
If those in the space want to for example stream to jitsi following consensus, I think that’s great. But I think we should allow for little c consensus to also work the other way–to have the ability to avoid cameras etc. as well.
Another reality is that we are in an unusual position: what we do at Noisebridge will be seen elsewhere by other hackerspaces. Many other spaces look to NB for guidance and inspiration. With this issue, we are being forced to show our values on power structure.
As a final point, some of us are looking for a place to work on projects to fight back against surveillance and the infrastructure of top-down power. When I first came to Noisebridge, I found I was in the right place. Now I feel uncertain.
Noisebridge should listen to what the majority of the community want. Right now we don’t have the option to use the space without a select few having access to the recorded footage of who comes and goes, and the internet at large being able to see that in real time. This is no judgment on those specific people, but a construct that I see as posing risk of harm to Noisebridge itself as a whole. I just want to make sure that we have considered all opinions, and that we are sure this is what we want.
I think this should be an ongoing discussion, and I hope we can use this as an opportunity to build on a culture of healthy discourse. I think opinions are strong because we are talking about real power here. Like I said, I could be wrong and I want to open this up to get others’ views.
Finally, I know this is a Ted Talk, but is also the best argument I have heard for why this discussion on privacy actually touches all of us: