Citizen empowerment

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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

  1. redirect template:links/smw

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.