I’m a big fan of new technologies in general, and the introduction of Google Glass has me really excited. Will I be able to afford one? No. Will most people? At $1500 for the current developer-oriented kit, I highly doubt it, unless you work somewhere on Wall Street. What intrigues me about Google Glass is it’s potential for human rights monitoring projects. Not to mention the other technologies that have become available in the global struggle for consistent and reliable accountability mechanisms.
Simmering conflicts around the globe have spawned numerous allegations of human rights abuse but are often areas of limited access. This, of course, is intentional on behalf of host countries who would like to avoid pesky intrusions of any media. A common claim trumpeted by the People’s Republic of China, and many others, is that journalists are attempting to interfere in their internal affairs and are therefore violating Chinese sovereignty. With regard to Kashmir, Nagaland, and some other key territories, India requires specific visa applications for “restricted areas” based on security concerns. While the areas are genuinely sights of repeated conflict, they are also cover under India’s Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which grants the military immunity against charges of human rights violations.
Organizations such as the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) have been pressing the Indian government to investigate the disappearance of thousands of men and women in areas frequented by military patrols. Peaceful protests have resulted in harassment from police forces and use of live ammunition to suppress crowds. Human rights advocates have had numerous documents confiscated, with unannounced raids by police forces, cameras smashed, and tapes destroyed. The advent of new technologies have provided organizations like APDP the means to enable their reports to surface without government harassment or interference. Wifi-enabled cameras and video-recorders are essential equipment for groups like the International Peace Observers Network in the Philippines to thwart this kind of harassment. Google Glass takes this the next step by increasing versatility and relieving advocates of unnecessary bulk.
Google Glass, however, has many detractors. Concerns over a right to privacy have pointed out a number of situations like cinemas and courtrooms where the use of such a device would be completely inappropriate. The right to privacy debate continues in the United States with the First, Third, Fourth, and Ninth amendments (as a huge fan of The West Wing drama, I recommend checking out season one, episode nine for more interest). Controversy has erupted following the revelations of NSA surveillance programs, as citizens around the globe abhor and deplore the tremendous capabilities of the State to monitor populations at whim and leisure. Some have argued that a counterweight of capability should be granted to populations to hold States themselves more accountable. Less sophisticated video-recording uploaded to websites have helped to expose government abuse such as the beating of a father in front his 9-year old daughter in by Chinese city officials. Such postings have resulted in generally transient government higher-ups being forced to respond to public outcry, or risk large-scale protests. A bit of power to the people in places where many feel powerless.
Will Google Glass take-off? It’s hard to tell, but my guess would be not this time around. Just as the iPhone took a few generations before it really hit home with consumers, I think Glass will take some further tweaking and refinement (hopefully with satellite uplink). Will privacy issues be addressed? Yes, absolutely. While “Do No Evil” is still a mantra for Google, it also interested in what can be successful or not, and how to market it for a profit. The advancement of technology leaves many uneasy. Yet the technology in and of itself is merely a tool, a tool in which we can find ways of producing more good in the world. As I figure, kid president says, “if it doesn’t make the world better- don’t do it”.
And I think the Google Glass may have the potential to do just that.