Citizen empowerment

From Issuepedia


Citizen empowerment takes place when ordinary citizens have access to new technology which make it possible for individuals, working alone or in groups, to accomplish things which previously required trained professionals using expensive equipment.

Citizen empowerment is of particular interest in dealing with emergency situations such as natural disasters and terrorism, when the traditional protectors and rescuers such as police and firemen may not be available in time. It has been pointed out that the only actions on 9/11 which assuredly prevented a terrorist act from occurring was the rebellion aboard United Airlines Flight 93: informed via cellphone of the Word Trade Center attacks, the passengers on board apparently seized control of the plane and crashed it in an uninhabited, killing all on board, rather than allowing it to proceed to its destination (which is not known for certain but was probably The White House).

Congressman Ron Paul has argued that if airline pilots were routinely provided with guns, rather than being prohibited from carrying them, 9/11 would not have been possible.

Unfortunately, there is a strong authoritarian counter-movement towards citizen disempowerment, against which any citizen empowerment initiatives must battle.

Empowering Technology

Citizen-empowering technology includes:

  • camera-phones allow bystanders to capture recordings of significant events, rather than requiring media reporters or professional photographers
  • cellphones
  • personal GPS devices
  • the Internet (a whole list unto itself)
    • wi-fi equipped portable devices (including laptops, PDAs, and wireless VoIP phones)


Filed Links

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  • 2010-05-02 [Talk|Index] Vendors Who Alerted Police Called Heroes § “Shortly before 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, the vendors – Lance Orton and Duane Jackson, who both served during the Vietnam War and now rely on special sidewalk vending privileges for disabled veterans – said they told nearby officers about the Pathfinder, which had begun filling with smoke and then emitted sparks and popping sounds.”
  • 2009-09-11 [Talk|Index] What Would 9-11 Be Like in the Age of Social Media? § “Here is how things would be different had the 9-11 planes been hijacked in 2009 instead of 2001.”
  • 2008-03-06 [Talk|Index] Revenge of the Experts § [2]“The individual user has been king on the Internet, but the pendulum seems to be swinging back toward edited information vetted by professionals.” Many of the arguments in this article seem flawed.
  • 2008-01-21 [Talk|Index] Why Kids On The Internet Are Scientology's Most Powerful Enemy § “This weekend, an anonymous Internet group (named Anonymous – these are not masters of subtlety) started a war with the Church of Scientology by hammering the group's web site; is down after a brief traffic spike.”
  • 2007-12-17 [Talk|Index] Toshiba Builds 100x Smaller Micro Nuclear Reactor § [2]It turns out this was a hoax: “Toshiba has developed a new class of micro size Nuclear Reactors that is designed to power individual apartment buildings or city blocks. The new reactor, which is only 20 feet by 6 feet, could change everything for small remote communities, small businesses or even a group of neighbors who are fed up with the power companies and want more control over their energy needs.”
  • 2007-11-25 [Talk|Index] Makeshift brigade makes a stand — and wins § [2]"The professional firefighters didn't roll up to Corral Canyon in time Saturday. So Matt Haines finally had his chance to rev up and roll out the private firetruck he bought at a public surplus auction. .. Haines' 31-year-old pumper truck and his tanker truck of similar vintage -- purchased from the Merced County Fire Department -- helped a do-it-yourself fire brigade save a dozen homes when flames encircled their El Nido neighborhood."
  • 2007-09-24 [Talk|Index] Saudi Religious Police Attacked by Girls § [2]“Head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in the Eastern province Dr. Mohamed bin Marshood al-Marshood, told Asharq Al Awsat that two of the Commission's employees were verbally insulted and attacked by two inappropriately-dressed females, in the old market in Prince Bandar street, an area usually crowded with shoppers during the month of Ramadan. .. According to Dr. Al-Marshood, the two commission members approached the girls in order to "politely" advise and guide them regarding their inappropriate clothing. .. Consequently, the two girls started verbally abusing the commission members, which then lead to one of the girls pepper-spraying them in the face as the other girl filmed the incident on her mobile phone, while continuing to hurl insults at them.
  • 2006-07-11 [Talk|Index] Officers arrest men for videotaping them § “On the day that Terri Schiavo died – victim of a court order condemning the brain-damaged woman to death by thirst and starvation – Representative Tom DeLay of Texas did what few politicians have the courage to do these days. He spoke his mind.”
  • 2002-09-04 [Talk|Index] Elevators were disaster within disaster § “The World Trade Center had one of the world's great elevator systems – 198 of the biggest, fastest elevators ever built. [USA TODAY]] estimates that at least 200 people died inside World Trade Center elevators [on 9/11], the biggest elevator catastrophe in history.”
  • 2002-06-01 [Talk|Index] Arm the Passengers § “For terrorists to be effectively deterred, they need to face a conterthreat they cannot scope out in advance. That’s why the right solution is to arm the passengers, not just the pilots.”


News & Views

  • 2007-10-23 'Fire blogging' tech expert on how fellow evacuees and networks are holding up: apparently emergency shelters now deploy wireless networks more or less as a standard thing, since it gives people a very effective way of contacting loved ones and of obtaining news; only a few people need to have laptops with them in order to make the network effective, if the shelter can't afford to have computers set up as well.
  • 2007-01-21 "Designed to Let Us Down: our deliberately frail cell phone system" by David Brin
  • 2004-04-18 The Wi-Fi ride of Paul Revere by Joshua Glenn: interview with W. David Stephenson, a Medfield-based homeland security consultant who claims that ordinary citizens armed with wi-fi laptops, smart cellphones, and the like would be far more effective at responding to terrorist attacks than any governmental organization.


  • WITNESS "uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations"
  • The UnterGunther: Restoration of the Pantheon Clock: "The UnterGunther is a Swiss-French urban explorers team whose activity is to restore the invisible parts of the heritage in total clandestinity. In November 2005, the UnterGunther infiltrated the Pantheon of Paris and, with the help of their professional clockmaker Jean-Baptiste Viot, started to restore the abandoned monumental 1850 Wagner clock" to working condition. After restoring the clock, they met with Pantheon administrator Bernard Jeannot, in order to show him the results and connect the clock to the bells. Jeannot was at first enthusiastic, but then reversed himself and decided to keep the restoration a secret, fearing that it would make his security look bad. The UnterGunther subsequently snuck in again (proving the inadequacy and inappropriateness of Jeannot's reaction to a now-known security issue) and reconnected the bells anyway. UnterGunther ended up in court, but they were found innocent. The clock's administrators, however, still decline to wind up the (now-functioning) clock, apparently fearful that this might draw further attention to the (widely-praised) quality of the restoration and hence to their own hypocrisy.


  • Is this an example of citizen empowerment? My best guess is that it is the Burning Man festival underway -- possibly a newer view of a more recent festival in the dark diamond, with an older view of one either under construction or being dismantled below and to the left. If it is Burning Man, then this is an example of organization by smart, technologically-enabled citizens with no special authority.