Tech and society: Smart guns in the U.S., camera surveillance in China, wristwatch in India to help against rapes

How technology plays into societal issues ranging from surveillance to safety to gun control:

• Can smart guns help reduce violence and gun deaths? They have been in the spotlight lately, with the Obama administration indicating interest in technology that would prevent a gun from being fired by anyone except its owner. Earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden reportedly said such technology might have prevented Adam Lanza, who shot 26 people in a Connecticut school last month before killing himself, from firing weapons owned by his mother.

Smart guns have been shot down by both gun-control opponents and proponents, according to the Associated Press, which traces the origins of personalized-weapon technology in the United States to a desire to keep young children from accidentally firing guns. Obstacles to continued development or adoption of the technology include pressure on gun makers from the gun lobby, as well as gun-control activists who ask whether smart guns would give a false sense of security.

Some smart guns would work only if the people firing them are wearing a ring or bracelet with a chip inside. The New York Times recently mentioned an Irish company whose smart gun has a feature that would deactivate it in certain “safe zones,” such as a school.

The Senate held hearings on gun control today.

• There are so many cameras watching the citizens of China, including in the classrooms of Beijing’s China University of Politics and Law, that one professor says she thinks “teachers will lose interest and students will lose interest as well” in exploring ideas that might get them in trouble with the government. That’s according to an NPR report that says the government has installed more than 20 million cameras around the country. One human rights lawyer in China says she’s under constant police surveillance, and that authorities have tried to use surveillance tape to get her boyfriend to believe she has been unfaithful so he will leave her. Human rights activists say they fear that improvements in facial-recognition technology could make the government even more powerful.

Big Brother knows no bounds, of course. In the U.K., for example, closed-circuit TV systems are being used in what officials are calling a privacy-friendly surveillance system. (See Quoted: Little Brother is watching?) And in the land of liberty? A Popular Mechanics article from 2009 estimated that 30 million surveillance cameras were installed in the United States, including on Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty stands, and many businesses.

• Can a watch help protect the women of India? Rapes and violence against women in that nation have received plenty of attention lately after a 23-year-old woman was gang-raped on a moving bus in December and eventually died of her injuries. After mass protests and a call for action, the government is planning to develop a watch that would send a text message to police and relatives if a woman was in danger, according to the Wall Street Journal. The watches, which are projected to cost $20 and $50, would also have GPS to help track a woman’s location and cameras that could record an attack.

But women’s advocates are skeptical. They say Indian police are either slow or reluctant to respond to reports of sexual attacks, according to the WSJ. So texts from women in danger may go unheeded.


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  • Smart guns seem like a good idea. But when governments murder thousands of times more citizens than private citizens do, where are the smart guns for them? Why are we fiddling while Rome burns?

  • RedRat

    The problem here is that we are all waltzing around the proverbial maypole of guns. Guns in our society are a symptom of a very sick society. We have created through our culture a society where violence is the final solution to all our problems. We extol violence through our TV, movies, books, and sports. Violent behavior moves the football down the field, cops finally get their man after a car chase and shootout, murder and killing are rampant in our popular stories both on TV and movies. Violence is being presented as the answer to solve the immediate problem at hand–guns just present a convenient and quick solution to far too many in our society. Throw into this mix the mentally unstable or psychotic, and you have a sure fire tragedy in the making.

    We must face the fact that we are never going to remove all guns from those who own them now. All we can do is hope to mitigate the damage they do. I think removing assault rifles and large ammunition clips is a good idea, but even we accomplish that, there are still far too many guns out there that future Newtown tragedies will still occur. While, many pooh-pooh the NRA about prosecuting more fully people who do commit crimes with guns, I think there is a basis of their criticism. What needs to be done is to make the cost of gun ownership if you use one in a crime so high that you will at least think twice before taking that gun up. For an immediate start, try enforcing the existing gun laws.

  • curmudgeon2000

    The gun and watch solutions are most likely going to fail,
    because they are ill-conceived technical solutions to what are
    societal and cultural problems. The people who think technology
    can solve every human ill live in a fantasy world where
    everything works only as expected, there are no unintended
    consequences, and nothing ever breaks. A little thinking will
    result plenty of scenarios where those gizmos will be useless,
    and perhaps even produce worse results than the problem they are
    intended to solve.

    The status of women in Indian society and the obsessive
    gun culture in the U.S. will not be fixed by some gadget,
    but rather long-term efforts in shifting public perception
    backed by some legal persuasion. As examples, look to
    anti-smoking efforts and the thirty-year campaign against
    drunk driving.