I'm not sure why I do it to myself, but I can never help reading the local pieces on our "surveillance society" that inevitably find their way into my inbox. I don't even really have to read them - they all are carbon copies of one another:
Hey, did you notice there's lots of cameras around? Doesn't that, like, hurt your privacy and stuff? Big brother!!! The cops say it's good for fighting crime. There are some statistics that say maybe that's not true. Most people don't give a crap about it. A couple of ACLU people do. There's a professor who has some thoughts about it, but doesn't really know what he's talking about. The end.
Here's a great one
I came across today.
Let's start with the lede:
WILMINGTON -- If you are planning a day trip to downtown Wilmington, surveillance cameras will likely monitor you when you park, walk down the street and even when you eat in a restaurant.
Yes. You've sent chills right up and down my spine. I won't leave my house for a week. EVEN WHEN I EAT IN A RESTAURANT?!? But that's where I get naked and murder people!
I'm so paranoid. Don't go on. I can't stand it.
"You feel like Big Brother's watching," said Kim Gold, 48, of Wilmington. "I just hope he is. Wilmington is just not as safe as it used to be, so anything they can do to deter crime is great."
I like this Kim Gold. She sounds sensible and like most people I know. However, she managed to work Big Brother into your story within the first five paragraphs, so I hate her just a little bit.
(A little reporting note here: Um, is Wilmington actually more or less safe than "it used to be"? Do we have any crime statistics we could supply? Or is it just that the media is hyper-aware of everything now and all crime is much more noticeable? Also, how long ago is "used to be"? Are we talking two years ago before the recession started, or 1970 when Kim was 10 and rode her bike on the sidewalk and ate lots of lollipops?)
Webster said in addition to acting as a deterrent, the cameras have helped police spot drug deals and radio the information into patrol units that can make an arrest.
But the cameras are also recording the activities of civilians on a daily basis. It's that trade-off that has always made privacy advocates and civil libertarians uneasy.
Could we supply some of these people to talk about why they don't want cameras at the dump? I don't think they really exist anymore. You're just setting up a strawman here. Cheap reporting. Cheap.
Sorry. I was really wasting time there when I should have lead with my favorite part:
Now, though, the next wave of video surveillance technology is poised to connect all those electronic eyes into a seamless network and pair it with such advances as facial-recognition software. Police could be more effective at catching criminals, but businesses could also become more efficient at identifying customers and their buying habits and preferences.
"Right now, all those cameras are disparate systems," said Stephen Henderson, who teaches criminal law and procedure at Widener University School of Law. "What happens when all those are put together? That's the critical question, and it's beginning to happen."
Ah, yes, the giant seamless network of all the cameras in the world, operated by Hal 2000 and ready to catch you every time you pick your nose. I am very intimidated by that possibility.
Also, the possibility that "businesses could also become more efficient at identifying customers and their buying habits and preferences." This is very terrifying. What would happen - I ask you - what would happen if you walked into the grocery store and you didn't even have to go to the sushi counter like you do every day, and instead, they identified you when you walked in the store and just kind of came up and handed the sushi to you? What would you do then?!? Wouldn't you freak out?!?
Also, here's a bulletin: Were this technology to become more widely used, you might actually get better service in the retail environment! How would you like those apples? You'd have nothing to complain about!
Also, is there anyone who knows more about the future of surveillance technology than Stephen Henderson, who teaches criminal law and procedure at Widener University School of Law? I think not. I bet that guy knows the crap out of surveillance technology. Pelco - get him on the phone, goddamn it!
Try to follow Henderson's logic here:
As a practical matter, though, there are a limited number of police officers, so they focus their efforts on people suspected of crimes. Public cameras remove that limitation, especially as they become smaller, cheaper and more widespread, he said.
"Then you have the worst of all possible worlds: You have no resource constraint and no legal constraint," Henderson said. "And that creates the danger of a surveillance society."
What? The supposition here is that you should be able to commit crimes in public and get away with it. And that you can't get away with it is "the worst of all possible worlds."
Two problems with that:
1. You're in public. You should always expect that someone is watching you, not on a camera, but with their eyes. If you commit a crime of some sort, one would hope that, if it was egregious, a citizen would report that crime. Would that be part of this horrible surveillance society Dr. Hendu imagines? Should we all walk about with blinders on so that we don't see each other at all, doing anything?
2. Henderson doesn't have much of an imagination. If he thinks that's the worst of all possible worlds, let me introduce him to a place where the only band you can listen to is Nickelback, the only show you can watch is Grey's Anatomy, and the only author you can read is Nicholas Sparks. THAT is the worst of all possible worlds. Slightly better, but also really bad, is a world where you have to coach T-Ball every single minute of your waking life.
In terms of ranking the worst possible worlds, I would put "a place where there are cameras in public places" at about number 1,398,008,321,996.
And, for the record, this reporter could not find one single actual citizen who is concerned about these possibilities. Instead, he found sensible people like this person:
For people such as 29-year-old Waikeem Clemmons of Wilmington, the cameras just aren't that big of a concern, even if a government agency wants to expand their use.
"They don't creep me out," Clemmons said. "You shouldn't be having sex, scratching your butt or picking your nose in public anyway."
So, this story was written why? Can someone please make stories like this stop?