Cell phones and digital cameras, along with a sense of public duty, are propelling a new form of citizen “snitching” that some are calling “cyber snitching.”
This troubles some privacy experts, who are concerned that a sense of civic duty could quickly degenerate into a loss of personal privacy.
One example cited involves bystanders, who willingly turned over their cellphone videos and digital photos to help Montreal police identify and arrest hockey rioters last week. It was the most recent example of public citizens helping the police do their work.
Anie Lemieux, spokeswoman for Montreal police, observed: “We often say the public’s eyes are police eyes.”
However, Richard Rosenberg, professor emeritus of computer science at the University of British Columbia, said there is a slippery slope between justified and invasive involvement.
The incident in Montreal struck Rosenberg as an example of turning the general population into a branch of the police, where neighbours and people you don’t even know are snooping and spying on one another to see if there’s something the police might be interested in.
Mr. Rosenberg is also the president of the British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.