Of the many ideas championed by WorldChanging, pretty much the only one that sticks in my craw is the participatory panopticon. This week's example is particularly disturbing: it's a Malaysian site that allows citizens to post picturephone photos of traffic violators:
The Malaysian Star notes that the site is operated by the national Traffic Ministry.Nice? I'm not convinced. The advent of a surveillance state is not more appealing simply because ordinary citizens are its agents. Quite the opposite.
This is a nice example of two aspects of the participatory panopticon: (a) it's global; and (b) it makes it far simpler to record (and, possibly, prosecute) petty crimes and deceptions.
The intriguing side of the particpatory panopticon is its ability to reveal and reduce instances of police brutality and similar abuses of power. The program cited by WorldChanging, however, is more along the lines of a neighborhood watch program, and as such is merely an intensification of an existing form of top-down social control.
Personally, I'm always happy to see bad drivers identified and punished, and chances are, the Malaysian program will accomplish nothing more sinister than that. That said, I don't see how Malaysia's network of citizen-informants is really "world changing," in practical or philosophical terms. While it may not be absolutely necessary to denounce it, I see no compelling reason to applaud it.
As for the question of reducing police brutality - at demonstrations, for instance - I've noted elsewhere that there's some debate over whether panoptic surveillance actually reduces crime on the part of citizens or terrorists. Accordingly, I think it'd be logical to question whether it can realistically reduce governmental crime. One also has to consider the technological and financial advantages that government agencies enjoy. Jamming camcorders is one possible law-enforcement response to the participitory panopticon; jamming digital cameras is another.
Ultimately, the only thing I'm quite certain the participatory panopticon will bring us is increased sexual harassment of women, in public and private.