Oxford taxi cabs will record your every word…

Just when you thought that having just about your every move recorded in the UK was bad enough, Oxford City Council, which runs the city I once called home, has decided that all taxi cabs in the city will record both sound and vision, and these records will be kept for up to 28 days, just in case.

People often ask me ‘where do you draw the line?’. Well, you absolutely draw the line at recording private conversations without a specific justification. Generalized audio surveillance is not just a step over the line, it leaps over the line, lands far beyond it and keeps running.

This is just wrong. No qualification.

It seems that despite having got rid of one government with authoritarian surveillance tendencies, the same impulses are alive and well in local government in Britain. Perhaps the councillors who voted for this would first like to have audio surveillance in their offices, cars and houses, you know: just in case…

Author: David

I'm David Murakami Wood. I live on Wolfe Island, in Ontario, and am Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Surveillance Studies and an Associate Professor at Queen's University, Kingston.

5 thoughts on “Oxford taxi cabs will record your every word…”

  1. The differences between this and other types of recordings made of people in public (and private places) are curious.

    What makes the recording of audio so different to:-

    The visual recording of movements of people and vehicles;
    The recording of TCPIP or other electronic transactions;
    The recording and maintenance of visitor logs;
    The recording of books read;
    The recording of material read or viewed on the internet;
    The recording of non-verbal telephone communications;
    and the plethora of other recordings and the uses for them now made possible by technology.

    The secondary issues regarding the retention times and levels of access to the data appear as a distraction from the decision (frequently not even recognised as such) to record, what to record and in what circumstances, as they simply allow attention to be diverted from those more focused difficult questions and decisions.

  2. I think a lot of the reaction to this as wrong has to do with the affective, and also with the particular qualities of speech and the freedom associated with being able to express thoughts without fear. Speech is not even of the same nature as writing, where editing and rewriting can take place, it is ephemeral, immediate and unedited. However this kind of generalized recording treats it, evidentially, as if it were something more like writing and that it should be understood that way. Generalized audio surveillance has immediate implications in terms of chilling freedom of thought and speech that video surveillance (on its own) does not. That is not to diminish the arguments against video surveillance but rather to emphasize the new step that is taken with generalized audio surveillance.

  3. That view could be seen as espousing issues relating to freedom of association are not compromised by generalized video recordings, yet clearly with free association forming a necessary part of freedom of thought and conscience that view would be incorrect. Differing emphases are placed on the type of data recorded and context that is presented in by each individual, in the same way that the contents of a communication are viewed in different ways by different audiences. For contrast a good example would be http://blog.simplejustice.us/2011/11/14/but-for-video-did-anybody-watch-it.aspx

    If speech as it appears, is directly allied to levels of thought, and unconsidered thoughts are often verbalised in various ways, many of the arguments previously presented in support of other types of generalised recordings would appear to remain valid in that different context. Considering that generalised surveillance of public areas (when recognised) does narrow levels of freedom generally then the recording of speech appears as nothing new, and in that same vain, ways could be presented arguing it would improve the real value of speech rather than discussion.

    Freedom dies by degrees…

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