Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Watching the watchers

Watching the watchers

The only Latin I know is ‘Nils satis nisi optimum’ (‘Nothing but the best’) as it’s the motto of Everton FC. Quoting it has always seemed to me to be an example of elitism; communication only to those with a ‘classical’ education. Wikipedia tells us:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is a Latin phrase from the Roman poet Juvenal, which literally translates to “Who will guard the guards themselves?”, and is variously translated in colloquial English as “Who watches the watchmen?”, “Who watches the watchers?”, “Who will guard the guards?”, “Who shall watch the watchers?”, “Who polices the police?” or other similar translations. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quis_custodiet_ipsos_custodes%3F)

By quoting the Latin, the fact that this issue is an old one is emphasised. There’s also the connotation that this conundrem is universal; ‘who polices the police’ is certainly in the news. Yesterday’s Guardian reported how activists were arrested for asking a policeman for his number (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2009/jun/22/protest-fitwatch-police-kingsnorth). Footage of an Iranian protestor shot by ‘security services’ (security, surely, only for the ruling classes) was posted on YouTube and Facebook. Also yesterday, Israeli human rights group won the British One World Media Award; they’ve given Palestinians cameras to record abuses (although the word ‘abuse’ doesn’t cover what’s happening in the photo above) against them.

Robert Sheckley’s novel The Status Civilization (1960) describes a society where individuals are brainwashed to police themselves; if they commit a ‘crime’ they give themselves up. This repressive society used technology against its own people; however Web 2.0 is allowing the people to use technology against oppressors. 30 years ago Blair Peach was killed, by the police, at a demo and they got away with it. This year we see Ian Tomlinson being attacked at the demo (here) although we still wait to hear if anyone will be held responsible.

Web 2.0 is ‘we media’ and it is the best chance to make democracy (‘derived from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía (info)), “popular government’ – Wikipedia) work.


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