[Surveillance and Capture : Two Models of Privacy, Philip E. Agre, 1994 ]

Agre contrasts two cultural models of privacy – the surveillance model and the capture model – providing a detailed articulation of the latter.

The surveillance model is built on visual metaphors – 'big brother is watching you' – and emerges as a result of historical experiences of secret police surveillance. Agre argues that this model is often used without critical analysis, and the application of these metaphors is not always appropriate (eg. in a business setting). The capture model emerges from information technology and computing, where capture has two meanings – the act of a computer system acquiring data; and/or the effort to create representations to accurately express systems or notions, i.e modeling reality. The former stands as more of a political metaphor while the latter a philosophical metaphor, using a mathematical formalism.

I think looking through the lens of a capture model does provide some useful tools/foundation for addressing and critiquing the web of privacy related issues. A computer can only capture what it understands and Agre talks about creating a Grammar of Action – distilling a process or system down to unary discrete actions. By doing this, behavior and actions subsequently need to conform to this grammar – the grammar is imposed on humans, exercising a form of control. This reduction to a discrete language ties in with a drive for efficiency, by reducing ambiguity in organizational processes, and allowing for easier measurement of economic efficiency. Human interactions as "transaction costs", where more capture = lower costs = more efficiency. It worthwhile to examine these captures and how they interact with people and society, and the underlying value system, as well as the assumption that all human activity can be reduced to a finite language and computationally modeled. As Agre states in the beginning, the models are not mutually exclusive and are more/less applicable in different contexts and settings. I think the capture model is a useful lens for thinking about privacy issues, and it's unfortunate that despite being written in 1993, it seems there wasn't enough attention given to the issues Agre brought up.