August 1, 2007

The Eye That's Always Open

Justin Katz

Tom Shevlin sees Big Brother in the arrival of E-Z Pass:

... a recent ABC survey found that almost three-quarters of Americans support expanding our surveillance apparatus including eighty six percent of Republicans who support Rudy Giuliani and over seventy percent of registered Democrats.

So what's the big deal? Why care? Because America was founded on the premise that the individual must be protected from the intrusion of government and the expansion of the surveillance state strikes directly at the heart of our personal liberty.

Just think about how a not-too-distant future trip to the Providence Place Mall could play out.

My first thought upon hearing the E-Z Pass news was that we'll likely find toll-booths beginning to pepper our highways once the General Assembly decides that an automatic debit system for tolls would sap sufficient aggravation to get away with further bleeding of the public. Tom and my reactions aren't mutually exclusive, of course.

Another item across which I've just stumbled:

Privacy advocates have long viewed red light cameras with the suspicion that the devices were the first step down a path of increased surveillance. Those fears may come true as the city of Oakland, California has revealed that it is working with the state legislature to secure a change in the law that will allow red light cameras to become full-scale surveillance cameras. In a memo from the Oakland Police Department dated June 26, Police Chief Wayne G. Tucker recommended that the city's lobbyist be ordered to advocate a new law in Sacramento.

"The legislation would also allow the use of those (red light camera) images for evidentiary purposes other than the enforcement of red light violations, such as reckless driving, assaults, public nuisance activity, drug dealing, etc."

The easy comfort that all of those people who support additional surveillance likely offer to each other is that those who do no wrong need have no fear. The problem is that those who would abuse power are often masterful in labeling a convenient batch of activities as "wrong" according to the law. Think, for example, political speech.

Sometimes a prudent caution requires a novelist's imagination; toward that end, consider that social surveillance equipment could track the movements of multiple people, helping to determine when meetings have happened. Inchoate opposition groups could be scuttled before they begin even to dream of effecting substantial change, perhaps with a first-class-mailed fine for jaywalking.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

On the other hand, CCTV cameras led to the arrest of the 2005 London subway bombers and apparently have been of assistance in the attempted London car bomb attacks earlier this summer.

- The Devil's Advocate -

Posted by: SusanD at August 1, 2007 6:55 AM

I don't know where people are getting the impression that you have any right to privacy (implied or otherwise) when you're on a public street. I 1000% support surveillance equipment in public areas. I don't hear the Brits screaming about their loss of rights, especially when the cameras allowed them to apprehend terrorists a number of times.

Posted by: Greg at August 1, 2007 7:32 AM

That right Greg, that pesky Bill of Rights is such a burden. 4th Amendment? Who needs it.... And the Brits? Great example.. I don't know why we ever kicked them out in the first place. Heck, they did such great work in Ireland, India, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rest of the empire. What were we thinking?

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Posted by: Pat at August 1, 2007 8:06 AM

Video and other surveillance is already here . . . it's just done by private businesses rather than the government.

Have you got a Stop & Shop card? How about an ATM card? A credit card? A cellphone? These devices can be used to track your activity pretty well, and no one seems to complain . . . by the way, it was the ATM surveillance cameras and credit card records that exploded Nifong's case against the Duke Lacrosse players.

Posted by: brassband at August 1, 2007 8:38 AM

Believe me, I see the argument of surveillance proponents.

It's all about safety, after all, right?

Whether private or public, CCTV is a part of our lives and we should just accept it.

But let's not pretend that the proliferation of security cameras is going to deter crime. Just look at London. Violent crime there is actually up with gun-crimes +15%. And let's not even talk about the terrorist attacks. Maybe we're underestimating al qaeda's desire to be on television, because London's surveillance state hasn't seemed to do anything to stop attacks there.

My fear and my belief is that ultimately the government will decide that ALL surveillance cameras should be fall under a central bureaucracy.

Sound far-fetched? Who would have thought 20 years ago that the government would be banning smoking from private residences and public parks? Who would have thought that we should entrust our healthcare system to the same people that brought us the DMV, IRS, and VA?

We're sleep-walking into a surveillance state. And for Republicans, who are supposed to be the party of limited government and "freedom," to overwhelmingly support it is almost as mind-boggling as the expansion of our federal and state governments.

Posted by: Tom at August 1, 2007 8:57 AM

I don't see this as a violation of my 'freedom'. I HAVE NO RIGHT TO PRIVACY WHEN IN PUBLIC. Anyone can see me. Anyone can take my picture.

You people that are so against surveillance need to rally to get all ATM cameras on city streets turned off because they might inadvertently capture your image as you walk by. Or how about the 15 cameras in every Wal-Mart parking lot? One of them might capture you on film as you drive by.

You should sue because your privacy was violated. Good luck finding precedent.

Posted by: Greg at August 1, 2007 9:33 AM

I vote that the first camera be located on the light pole nearest to the ACLU's main entrance! ;-)

Seriously, this is one of those matters in which the arguments, and concerns, and fears on both sides are valid; hence the dilemma.

Posted by: Tom W at August 1, 2007 10:42 AM

Maybe if we're concerned about an encroaching bureaucracy using video surveillance against us we should take care to not elect Orwellian A-holes like Captain Cuckoo-Bananas and their Patriot Acts.

Posted by: Greg at August 1, 2007 11:27 AM


So Greg, if I am walking down the street, minding my own business, the police can just come up and frisk me? Unprovoked, no warrant, just because I am in public?

Posted by: Pat at August 1, 2007 11:42 AM


You miss my point.

This is about government intrusion into the daily lives of its citizens.

This is about the very real possibility of government expansion beyond anything we have seen to date.

Are you to tell me that you actually WANT a state or federal agency monitoring you through both hidden and visible CCTVs? Do you actually believe that we are safer for having video voyeurs and recycled tape as opposed to police on the ground?

What alarms me is the rapidity in which CCTVs have spread over the last decade and the flimsy reasoning for it. There is, after all, no firm data to prove that surveillance stops crime.

Personally, I don't like stepping up to an ATM knowing that I'm on candid camera. Nor do I like knowing that I can't walk from City Hall to the Statehouse without being on camera.

No, it doesn't make me feel any safer. In fact, if I see a surveillance camera, I'm prone to think that there's a reason (ie a history of crime) for placing a camera in that area.

I don't want to live under the blanket of false security that the surveillance state provides. America was founded with the primacy of the individual firmly in mind. The government was meant to be questioned and centralized power especially suspect. I would argue that the founders - who did not have to deal with things like cameras since they didn't exist - would have objected to the crown - I mean, government - monitoring its subjects - I mean citizens.

That said, I understand that times have very much changed I do see the argument for wanting to keep our streets safer through new technologies, but I'd prefer to see more boots on the ground than eyes in the sky. After all, just because times change doesn't mean principles have to.

Posted by: Tom at August 1, 2007 11:49 AM

The difference between ATM cameras or in-store cameras and what the Brits have is who owns and monitors the data. As powerful as Bank of America is, its power and reach is nothing compared to the Feds or even our incompetent State.
Maybe I have no right to privacy in public, but I certainly do have a right to object to my tax money supporting another bureaucracy or ten. If TSA is any example, we'd wind up with a huge expense and little or no improvement in actual safety. Can't profile don't 'cha know - must uniformly distribute the cameras on Allens Avenue and Upper Snootville Road in Barrington, etc, etc.

Posted by: chuckR at August 1, 2007 12:27 PM

I agree fully with Tom (and am just as paranoid). I use the Newport Bridge every day -- I am also a big fan of tokens. Most days, I have no wait at all -- I zip right through. On the worst days, maybe 2 cars are in front of me. We're not taking about the New Jersey Turnpike here, we're talking about a bridge mainly catering to locals and tourists.

I like the tokens for three reasons: I am charged far less than the cash customers ($10 for 11 tokens, versus $2.00 per crossing for cash customers) and there are greater discounts for bulk buyers (Tom being one, I know); There is real a sense of "tangiblity," in the sense that I know I am spending real money, even though it is only a token. I reminds me of federal witholding of income tax -- it makes it seems less onerous, but that's part of the problem (it perpetuates overtaxation). With E-Z Pass, it's very easy to forget you're getting charged or to treat it as intangible, plus they can raise the rates a little bit anytime they want and it will go largely unnoticed. Lastly, especially in Rhode Island, I do not trust the state to do the right thing with the information. For all I know, they'll sell the data to some outside company.

To me, there's a difference between ordinary American citizens having there movements tracked by either the government or private companies that potentially share that information with others -- where there is no real public safetly interest -- and the monitoring of would-be terrorists (i.e. people making phone calls to individuals in places like Afghanistan, Iran, etc., or with known connections to other suspected terrorists). I'm all for monitoring non-citizens who are deemed security risks -- or those potentially engaged in terrorist activity, etc. However, having bette security does not mean that we have to accept the creation of a 1984 type of society. I think we have enough of that already.

Posted by: Will at August 1, 2007 4:28 PM

I like the idea of EZ Pass if it would reduce the number of people it takes to run a toll booth and I don't have any problem with public surveillance cameras. But to Justin's point, I can see a future where the General Assembly puts toll booths on state roads to raise money. Maybe one on the road to Newport Grand and the other on the road to Twin River?

Posted by: Anthony at August 2, 2007 11:26 AM
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