Exposed in Malone

June 22, 2010

“Smile!  You’re on Mandated Camera!”

—Op-Ed by Michael Fournier

In 1949 George Orwell published “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” a fictional portrayal of a totalitarian regime which oversees a collectivist society in a land called Airstrip One—a place of perpetual war, government surveillance, government mind control, and the end of civil liberty.

The book was a bombshell.  The adjective, “Orwellian,” quickly became synonymous with totalitarian government.  Big Brother had arrived.

Big Brother has now reached Malone.  Did you know there are surveillance cameras strategically positioned around town?  Did you know you’re being watched by the government every time you show up on Main Street?  Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

The usual argument for Big Brother cams goes like this:

» “If you’ve got nothing to hide, what’s the big deal?”

 » or, “Don’t blame us for crime!  If we’d installed Big Brother cams, we might have a suspect already!”

Big Brother can never honestly say, “If we had a camera, we could have prevented a crime,” because the evidence doesn’t support it.  Big Brother may say, “There are hundreds of cameras already in Malone,” neglecting to mention those cameras are not being funded by government (taxpayer) money and used for government purposes.

What, exactly, are those purposes?  That’s the disturbing question.  Do you know?  Do you always know?  Do those purposes gradually evolve?  Do those purposes lead inexorably, inevitably, imperceptibly to increasingly totalitarian purposes?  Are the current purposes in reality a slippery slope whose bottom, unavoidably, is fascism?  Does History offer any useful lessons here?

If you support totalitarianism, feel free to support your loss of rightsBut if you call yourself a free citizen, it’s time to take a stand.

When our forebears declared themselves Sons of Liberty, they didn’t have 24-hour a day, 7-day a week government surveillance in mind.

Ironically, when you attend this year’s Independence Day parade, you will do so under the watchful eye of Big Brother.  Our First Amendment right to assemble becomes a mockery if any public gathering occurs under the electronic scrutiny of the state.

Bear in mind, these cameras can read license plates.  Can they be focused into home windows or your car?  (Does the Fourth Amendment protect us from this? )

Will the District Attorney eventually use bio-recognition software?  Will the video be stored in data banks?  Will the video data be subject to Freedom of Information Laws?  How long is the video data stored?  Will these cameras zoom in on public protests and political gatherings?

What if a spouse is seeking a divorce, will attorneys be able to make F.O.I. requests to see if daddy or mommy is visiting with people in camera view that they prefer others not know about?  Can the video be used in family court?

Will your employer be able to make Freedom of Information (F.O.I.) requests to see if you were really sick the day you called in, or were you instead pulling your boat down Main Street?

What is the potential for blackmail using F.O.I gathered information against someone?

How do the folks sitting on their front porches feel, knowing they are under the eyes of Big Brother every time they step outside?  Are they aware of the capability of these high tech cameras?

Unless we take a stand now, we will be forever under the watchful eyes of the state police, the village police, the D.A. and even the Department of Transportation.

Consider this:

» Big Brother cams have been successful only in driving crime a block or two away from the camera. It’s called crime displacement.  What then?  More cameras on telephone poles on side streets?

» In New York City, participants in the Million Youth March found out they spent the entire day under police video surveillance. The police zoomed in on the faces of thousands of innocent people who were doing nothing but enjoying their Constitutional right to speak and assemble peacefully.

» Freedom of Information Act requests have revealed that federal authorities used video cameras for surveillance of political demonstrations, a fact District of Columbia police officials acknowledge. Ordinary people will shy away from political activities if they believe they will be monitored in this way.

» Expensive camera surveillance that was used for 22 months in Times Square resulted in only 10 arrests. Miami Beach abandoned them as ineffective.

» A study of government surveillance cameras examined thirteen jurisdictions in the United Kingdom concluded that cameras did not significantly reduce crime. Violent crime was impacted the least of all, and in some areas it actually increased.

» Another study examined communities in Britain and the United States and found that, on average, improved lighting alone reduces crime 20%. This suggests that from a public safety perspective, it makes more sense to spend public money on improved street lighting.

As a kid growing up in this town, I routinely spoke with police officers who walked the beat. The police were friendly, approachable and knew the community members, including the hell-raisers like me.  Later on, we had police on bicycles.

Whatever happened to community policing?  (Why not add the camera money to the deputy sheriffs funding, so they can earn a decent wage, and then have these guys walk the beat?  Jobs are what we need, not cameras.)

Police are instead used to create revenue for state and local government. The powers that be have reduced them to glorified meter maids and hall monitors.  Cops are put to work, now, mostly handing out tickets, many of them frivolous.

I say, ditch the cameras and get cops back onto the street, walking a beat.  Community policing works.  Community policing beats taking the road of no return to Big Brother.


Michael Fournier
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