Normalizing the Surveillance Society

Beverly K. Eakman – The District of Columbia, like other metropolitan areas, has been using traffic cameras to catch motorists who speed or run red lights. It has even deployed surveillance cameras in neighborhoods. Moreover, if security officials have their way, both the number of cameras and the uses to which those cameras are put in the nation's capital will be ramped up.

Washington Times reported last week: “The District’s top security chiefs are planning to expand their use of electronic surveillance by issuing tickets for more traffic offenses, integrating thousands of private and public cameras into a single feed and adding portable cameras that can be positioned to peek into any neighborhood.” High-tech cameras will now be peering into neighborhoods, pinpointing both incidences of a petty nature (public urination, graffiti, and jaywalking) as well as larger offenses (purse snatching, burglary, murder and kidnapping). All in the name of safety, of course.

When “traffic” cameras were initially installed at busy intersections, they were supposed to be used to catch motorists endangering our safety. Now surveillance cameras are used for much more than that. But should we really be surprised by this trend? As late-night comedian Jay Leno would no doubt quip, using his favorite line: “Well, who could have seen that coming!”

Of course, the growth of the surveillance state is not limited to cameras. And when you consider the vastness of technological developments that can be deployed by a growing surveillance state, which this author has repeatedly warned against over the years, the picture for America’s future is not warm and fuzzy. Consider the Orwellian possibilities: Specialized, implanted identification chips in humans (including newborns and the elderly); universal mental “health” screening; routine bag and purse checks in buildings; Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expansions into all subways, trains, etc.; backpack checks and metal detectors in every school (including random student strip searches); and surreptitious, snoop questionnaires disseminated in classrooms in an attempt to identify “politically unreliable” opinions.

Fantastic? Not when you look at current trends and project the lines. Many Americans have already accepted the notion that their right to privacy must be violated at airports for their own good. But what is the difference, in principle, between the searches the government is routinely conducting at airports — in violation of our Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures — and similar searches carried out in other venues? Moreover, if government officials can gawk at our nude photos and grope us for the stated purpose of keeping us safe, then, we should ask, what other measures might these guardians of public safety someday impose — ostensibly for our own good or the good of society as a whole? How might developing technology be deployed to make the emerging surveillance state even more pervasive?

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February 8th, 2011

Staff Reporter

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