The Spy in the Cab: The Use and Abuse of Taxicab Cameras in San Francisco

Donald Anderson

Abstract


Since security cameras were first required in San Francisco taxicabs in 2003, their unfolding story has come to contain many elements familiar to surveillance studies: the initial introduction of new technology in the wake of a moral panic; a failure of maintenance and a lapse into unreliability; and finally a resurgence accompanied by surveillance creep. This trajectory is explored using the concept of “surveillance slack,” and the stages of slackening and tensing of taxicab camera surveillance will be considered in terms of their shaping by issues of acceptability (where the line between use and abuse is drawn), of effectiveeness (what the cameras are perceived to be doing), and, underlying both of these, of integration, that is, how the slackness or tautness of surveillance interacts with existing lines of tension and conflict in the taxi industry.


Since security cameras were first required in San Francisco taxicabs in 2003, their unfolding story has come to contain many elements familiar to surveillance studies: the initial introduction of new technology in the wake of a moral panic; a failure of maintenance and a lapse into unreliability; and finally a resurgence accompanied by surveillance creep. This trajectory is explored using the concept of “surveillance slack,” and the stages of slackening and tensing of taxicab camera surveillance will be considered in terms of their shaping by issues of acceptability (where the line between use and abuse is drawn), of effectiveness (what the cameras are perceived to be doing), and, underlying both of these, of integration, that is, how the slackness or tautness of surveillance interacts with existing lines of tension and conflict in the taxi industry.

Since security cameras were first required in San Francisco taxicabs in 2003, their unfolding story has come to contain many elements familiar to surveillance studies: the initial introduction of new technology in the wake of a moral panic; a failure of maintenance and a lapse into unreliability; and finally a resurgence accompanied by surveillance creep. This trajectory is explored using the concept of “surveillance slack,” and the stages of slackening and tensing of taxicab camera surveillance will be considered in terms of their shaping by issues of acceptability (where the line between use and abuse is drawn), of effectiveness (what the cameras are perceived to be doing), and, underlying both of these, of integration, that is, how the slackness or tautness of surveill


Keywords


Security cameras, Surveillance creep, Taxicabs; Mobility and Work

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