April 16, 2011
Orwell Was an OptimistBy Ellen Meade
Take a look at the headlines any day of the week and you'll see the ever-increasing use -- and abuse -- of government surveillance. The latest offense? The city of Boston's thermal imaging cameras that can see inside homes.
But, big deal, right?
We're under almost constant surveillance, anyway. We're recorded shopping at Target, Wal-Mart, and, of course, the grocery store. And we can hardly stop at an intersection without having the prying eyes of government us.
Now, it appears, we're not even free at home. I live in a condo complex in an upscale area of Atlanta called Buckhead. When I first moved in seven years ago, it was, comparatively speaking, a relative bastion of freedom. Then, there was a break-in, emotions ran wild, and surveillance cameras soon followed.
Never mind that they've never been proven to deter crime.
Our 24/7 concierge needed 24/7 recordings of everyone that came onto the property. We needed recordings of each car, the make, the model, the time it went through the gates and recordings of every single person as they got onto the elevators.
Overkill? Perhaps. But, that was just the beginning.
Homeowners' associations are simply microcosms of government, and, as such, things soon spiraled out of control. Before long, the cameras weren't just keeping an eye out for intruders; they were trained on us, the homeowners. Just as our tax dollars are now being used to spy on us in public, our HOA dues are now being used to spy on us at home.
We've now got a surveillance camera trained on our locked and gated pool area. That's right. We can't even lie out by our own pool without being recorded and watched 24/7. Why? The answer: We need to see what's going on out there; people might have glass, or be smoking. Well, by all means, then! Let's all be under constant surveillance when we're out by the pool because someone might have glass.
By the same token, why not have surveillance cameras in the hallways to be sure we're not dropping trash? Why not have cameras on us every second we're not actually in our unit to be sure we're behaving properly?
When will it be enough?
If we don't act now, it will only get worse. We'll have a generation of people who don't remember a time before surveillance cameras.
Those in power try to sweeten the sound of them by calling them security cameras. And technology has made it possible for people to live in denial that they're being tracked and recorded. There's a disconnect for people. If a surveillance camera is mounted above your head, off in a corner, you don't think about being recorded. But, imagine, if every time you went to Target, an employee walked up to you, turned on a video camera, and followed you around the store, recording every move you made. Or, walking down the street, and having a police officer stand next to you, with his Handycam, recording your every move because you might do something wrong. Or, in my case, lying out by your pool, and having someone sit there and record you because you might try to light up.
We might feel a little differently about it then and speak up for ourselves.
Those in favor of a surveillance state believe they can create a sort of utopia by mitigating risk. But, risk is inherent in freedom. Police officers, and even the concierge in my building, argue, "Well, I have a right to watch you in person when you're outside, so recording you is no different."
But, having someone come out to look around a few times a day is reasonable; being under constant recorded surveillance is not.
We're forgetting what it means to be free in this country. Surveillance, in all its forms, is beginning to have a chilling effect on our thoughts and speech.
Have you ever found yourself wanting to comment on a news article, but deciding not to because you had to register and feared retribution? Have you found yourself not saying what you want to in an email for fear Big Brother was watching? Have you edited yourself on phone conversations for fear he was listening? We may think we're okay with the current state of surveillance, but when we decline to speak freely for fear of government action, we're not free.