The New York Times examines the different reactions that U.S. and European citizens have to airport backscatter (or millimeter wave technology) scanners and Google’s Street View mapping service.
Over the past three and a half years, the advancing army of Google Street View cars has pressed forward, its units opening fire on city after city from roof-mounted, omnidirectional cameras that seize, in an unyielding digital grip, panoramic images — of Rome! of Peoria! of Antarctica! — that Google’s commanders stockpile and post online. Protests have followed dependably, and often literally, in their path. […]
And this past May, shortly after Google admitted that its cars weren’t just taking pictures — they had “inadvertently” gathered information, including e-mail passwords, from unprotected WiFi networks (“We screwed up,” Sergey Brin, one of Google’s founders, said) — 30 European countries banded together to combat Google’s infringements on the privacy of citizens. The nations demanded improvements in Google’s blurring techniques (designed to obscure faces, license plates, naked people) and sought a reduction, from 12 to 6, in the number of months Google could hold onto the millions of unblurred original images backed up on its servers. […]
In the U.S., over the same period, Google’s Street View practices briefly drew the attention of the Federal Trade Commission and are currently under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (as a result of the WiFi “screw-up”), but domestic populist outrage has not come to a boil over the company’s ambitious scanning of the American macrocosm. Rather, we have been collectively seething, these weeks, over microcosmic invasions at the hands and will of the Transportation Security Administration and its enhanced examination techniques. […]
It’s an old saw that Americans — we descendants of Puritans — are puritanical. […] Even so, to view opting out of scanning as a matter of prudery blurs the parts of the thing we would do better to get in focus. At a time when self-exposure would seem to have overwhelmed American life — we cannot imagine a phone or a computer that doesn’t have a camera so that we might broadcast ourselves — it turns out we remain a commendably cautious people. As much as we invite the world to see us more intimately than ever, that intimacy remains by invitation only.