Have We Gone Surveillance Crazy?

Big BrotherBig BrotherThere should be no mistaking that information is for sale these days, and security concerns have placed a premium on surveillance data - but have we gone too far?

From subway cameras, to keyboard strokes, to webcams monitoring your local street, we’ve gone surveillance crazy. Advancements in camera, video and webcam technology are moving at a blistering pace and the latest innovators have developed such a mastery of pattern recognition that now they can tell it was you who ordered that tiramisu at Mike’s Pastry’s last Friday. Wendy was your waitress. They saw you, and you didn’t tip.

Less expensive today, surveillance cameras have seen astounding growth in these early years of the 21st Century. Webcam’s are appearing on cell phones and are now available for free with your purchase of a laptop. Nearly every business uses cameras in some form or another and most observation tools are devised with the best intentions when it comes to military and Homeland Security use.

However, employing the same technology in the civilian world can quickly devolve into something a lot messier and a lot more controversial.

Very soon, hundreds of surveillance cameras will be placed along the US/Mexico border in an effort to track illegal immigrants crossing into the United States. Deemed “Virtual Border Watch” by Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, residents will be able to monitor border-crossings on their home computers and can report any violations they observe to local authorities.

This is real and I’m not joking. Innovations in computer technology, internet andVirtual Border WatchVirtual Border Watch webcam development have made this all possible at a relatively cheap price for government ($5 million). If you login to a State of Texas website in the near future, a streaming, real-time video of an empty field will no doubt bring a tear to your eye. You may even be rewarded between bites of popcorn by catching and deporting a family in search of a better life.

The argument for applying this technology in this manner goes something like this: If we don’t monitor the border crossings of illegals, then we run the risk of welcoming more of them into our country. I’d like to point out that, conversely, if citizens are now monitoring our borders, what’s to stop us from monitoring the entrances to our cities and towns, our neighborhoods and our homes?

In an effort to put this into context, I want to share with you the definition of the word surveillance. I hate doing this (because as I writer I find it weak and uninspired to define a word and reference its dictionary citation) but this one is too good to pass up:

Surveillance (v): close observation of a person or group, especially one under suspicion.

Under suspicion. Does installing hundreds of webcam’s in the Lone Star State mean that our borders are breeding grounds for suspicious activities? I’m led to believe that crime isn’t happening anywhere else in the state, except on border town. In fact, so much crime is happening there that $5 million worth of cameras are necessary so that families and children can sleep safely at night.

I might be over dramatizing the situation, but it seems to me that the word ‘surveillance’ isn’t strong enough to indicate what is happening here - or anywhere, for that matter. We now ‘observe our surroundings’, instead of spy on the public. We now ‘monitor for illegal activity’, instead of respect the rights of the innocent. Interestingly, it is difficult for us to see the distinction between these terms because cameras are now endemic to American culture.

I’m as surprised as you are to see that the definition of surveillance included the words “under suspicion”. How did it come to pass that such a harsh word is now perceived as an accepted part of life?

Marketers have successfully softened this word so that it can be more palatable, more consumable, to individuals and businesses. Innovation in this field has come a long way from Cold War spying and the suspicion that we thought we were under if a camera was present in our neighborhood. But where does it stop?

It essentially boils down to one question for me. Are we employing these devices to track people we don’t know (or do know) because we perceive genuine threats to our own livelihood?

Surveillance should fit a very specific need. Great innovations can be useful, but not altogether necessary. Just as important as the invention itself, it may be that patience is required to determine the best use of that same invention. I think we can agree that if an actual, dangerous threat exists, we should launch hundreds of cameras and millions of dollars to resist it.

Jefferson Smith
Featured Blogger
American Inventor Spot

Oct 8, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

Great article. I am actually

Great article.

I am actually frightened of all teh surveillance that goes on. Soon, I am going to have to go to some foreign country where they can't follow me around like some tracking device.

Oct 10, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

Other countries

Other countries have it even worse. The governments in other countries have had surveillance cameras lining the streets for years already.