2006/02/26

Rehabilitating Big Brother

Are we being a little too squeamish about 21st-century surveillance?

Nobody objects to a cop or a security guard keeping an eye on things. But when you replace the human eye with a camera, civil libertarians howl.

Why?

Chicago has used surveillance cameras at government buildings, train stations, and intersections for a few years. Milwaukee wants to put surveillance cameras in some stores, and Baltimore County, Maryland, requires large malls to install cameras in parking lots. Said Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz:

We require shopping centers to put railings on stairs and install sprinkler systems for public safety. This is a proper next step.

But is it just a benign and necessary step for keeping us safer and more secure, or is it the proverbial slippery slope?

In Houston, the police chief wants to take it a step further — requiring cameras not only in streets and shopping malls, but in apartment complexes and on the grounds of private homes. The chief gave the classic justification:

I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?

Ok, pointing a camera at my front door to watch my comings and goings is a little creepy. But what's wrong with putting cameras in more public places — anywhere you would expect to see a cop stationed?

And why stop with cameras? It's now possible to implant tiny, inexpensive transmitter chips into a person to identify him or track his whereabouts. Is that also creepy, or just good, 21st-century common sense?

Police use fingerprints and DNA to determine if a person was at a crime scene. No one objects. Why not go a step further? Instead of using part of a criminal's body as evidence against him, police would simply be using a piece of technology implanted into his body.

The idea of implanting chips into people to identify and track them is chilling. But after seeing the abuses that the Bush administration has gotten away with in the name of safety and security, I have no doubt that the practice will someday become acceptable and routine.

And besides, if you're not doing anything wrong, why worry about it?

7 Comments:

Nobody believed me when I said this before, but I have been vindicated dammit! Mulder and Scully were RIGHT!
Well the issue of course is that WRONG is in the eye of the beholder. When peaceful protestors gather to exercise their right to free speech on matters where they disagree with policy or actions, they are often treated as potential 'threats' and are subject to surveillance. After all, they MIGHT become violent. And surveillance of those that 'criticize' keeps the public safe. As does using software to intrude on their email, grouplist, and other communications.

Ask the reverse, if WE are doing nothing wrong, why do THEY worry about it? What statistical or historical justification makes the spying on of Quakers peacefuly assembled a legitimate use of taxpayer money? It is not based on probability, it is based on some rubric of opportunistic data mining.

If they only used surveillance for safety, it might not bother us nearly as much because most of us are in fact doing nothing wrong. BUT, when the same police chief uses the tape showing a political rival involved in an extramarital stroll on that said corner or shows people of inerest coming and going from homes- it is the abuse of power of information for political and personal gain. This is what they do at all levels. Again, at our expense. At least wrrants and paper trails partly push legitimacy on spying. Secrecy and total lack of transparency on process do not.
I have nothing against surveillance cameras at shopping malls or convenience stores, or places where a robbery may occur and police need to catch the suspect, however, placing video cameras in public places is an intrusion.
Also, I feel that these implants are an intrusion as well. There's no guarantee that they won't have adverse effects ten or twenty years down the road, and it acts under the assumption that anyone is guilty until proven innocent.
The difference between a cop and a camera is that a cop can actually prevent a crime and apprehend a criminal. A camera merely records the crime for later review.
epm, you're right. A cop is of more immediate help during a crime. But it's not really crime I'm talking about. It's the privacy of all the innocent people whose every move would be scrutinized by that guy doing the reviewing, and in a way that a cop on the street could never get away with.
I get where you're coming from, api. I was addressing the supporters of surveillance who say there's no difference between a cop on the beat or a camera on the street.

Here's a trick: when someone says "Well, if you have nothing to hide..." tell them you do have something to hide. When they ask "Like what," tell them it's none of their Goddamn business, you live in America not North Korea and that's the whole point.
I am a chronic nosepicker and that is the only thing i feel sheeping about ending up on camera.
cameras don't bother me too much.

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