Surveillance of the Vassar Community?

Posted by: Ken Bolton 16 years, 8 months ago


It recently came to my attention that a video camera has been set up at Vassar College to be streamed into SecondLife.I first encountered the device when I went to the Vassar island in SL. It took some significant  software sleuthing to uncover the URI of the offending and offensive device. I find the undocumented practice of surveilling a public space at Vassar College extremely disturbing. Have the students and faculty who walk across the Library Lawn every day been told that they are being filmed and broadcast to the world? My research into the matter indicates that this has not been discussed in any public manner. How does this filming enhance the teaching, learning, and research that happens at Vassar? I do not think filming and streaming into SL has any academic merit.

I post the link to the camera here. I would buy the argument that, by posting this, I am violating privacy even more than whoever installed the camera. I would respond that the content is fully accessible to anyone in SecondLife. Further, I hope this shames the responsible individuals into removing the offending device permanently.

A number of years ago, students taking a course in the Media Studies Development Project approached me about performing open and transparent surveillance of the Media Cloisters. My understanding was that the camera would be set up in the space with clear signs outlining when and how the camera would be used. It was also made clear that the footage would be used for in-class presentation. All footage not used for the presentation would be destroyed. This idea was shot down, justifiably, because the Media Cloisters was a space set aside for unfettered use of technology. Surveillance of users of the space, it was felt, would create an unfriendly atmosphere.

I won't go into the use of SecondLife at Vassar beyond stating that I am skeptical of the pedagogical value. The Vassar MOO and MOOssiggang engage students much more dramatically in the building of space, the writing of text, the display of imagery, and computer-mediated communication than SL currently can. Yes, the technology of the mid-90s doesn't have the whiz-bang factor of SL, but the pedagogy was sound.

I hope that faculty, students and administrators at Vassar look carefully at what they are allowing with this ongoing filming of the campus. Yes, I know that the images are from a great distance, that they are of fairly low quality, and that some may argue that Vassar is a  public space. I think these arguments area slippery slope and fallacious. Cheaper, higher quality cameras will become available. Vassar is a private institution, and has a commitment to protect the privacy of its faculty, staff, and student.

If I go to reunion this year, I will be staying away from the Library Lawn.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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