Skip to comments.Chicago, Houston Consider Cameras in Private Businesses, Homes
Posted on 02/28/2006 8:02:23 AM PST by boryeulb
George Orwell's classic dystopian novel 1984 opens with a surveillance helicopter chopping its blades menacingly through London, peeking inside apartment buildings. The protagonist, a conscience-stricken state worker with no way to blow the whistle, goes home to a "telescreen" watching and reporting his every word, move and even mood.
The totalitarian state apparatus of Orwell's bleak vision was patterned after the world's Communist parties. But many of today's 21st-century Democrat and Republican politicians see no problem with the kind of permanent police dragnet envisioned in the novel.
While Orwell's homeland of the United Kingdom is still the most-surveilled on Earth, recent actions by two big-city mayors will help the United States in the race to capture this dubious honor.
Chicago's mayor Richard Daley, heir to decades of ruthless Democrat machine politics, has been on a camera binge for quite some time now. In late 2004, Daley's Chicago announced plans to install an elaborate network of surveillance cameras in the city. Initially 2,000 cameras strong, the network is designed for ever-expanding, infinite capacity. And this camera network is to have a special feature: software that alerts police to allegedly "suspicious" behavior detected on camera. It sounds like something from the film "Minority Report," but many studies of similar behavioral-algorithm systems have shown high rates of false positives -- "hits" on innocent people. So, watch out -- if the software decides you're "wandering aimlessly," a heavily-armed SWAT team may not be far behind.
That software, paid for with a multimillion dollar grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security, was set to go online in March 2006 -- next month. At the time, Daley justified the surveillance net to the New York Times by saying, "We're not inside your home or your business. The city owns the sidewalks. We own the streets and we own the alleys."
But now that the system's software is set to go live, Daley says cameras on street corners and train platforms just aren't enough for him. Yep, just 15 months later, Daley is ready to admit that he does indeed want eyes inside your private business. He endorsed last week a bill pending in the City Council to require police surveillance in private buildings.
Under the plan, private businesses that remain open more than 12 hours a day and bars that remain open until last call would have to install the cameras also. The bill as written now would not require that businesses hook up their mandatory cameras to city networks, but Chicago Tribune reports that eventually, "the city does plan to link cameras in office and apartment buildings and other private properties to its system."
If you thought that was bad, get a load of what's going on in Houston. There, the police chief wants cameras placed in commercial downtown Houston. As opposed to the situation in Chicago, where the camera plan was introduced with a public-relations focus on placing the cameras in high-crime areas of town, downtown Houston is a high-pedestrian, low-crime area.
What exactly are the cameras there for? (Maybe Houston police will follow the lead of the Alabama State Troopers who, finding themselves at a control panel of cameras in a low-crime area, used them to ogle college girls.)
And here's the kicker: Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt is also advocating that the local building code be changed to require that private apartment complexes install surveillance cameras. Hurtt even said he wants cameras installed, telescreen-style, in private single-family homes if he decides there have been "too many" calls for police assistance from the home.
Hurtt invoked the name of Orwell's dictator in defending his radical proposition: "I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?"
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is supposed to guarantee protection from unreasonable searches. Hurtt's desire, like Daley's to constantly watch presumably innocent Americans on private property is both unreasonable and unconstitutional.
Democrat Mayor Bill White, who appointed Hurtt, has been equivocating about Hurtt's outrageous idea as the public reaction is tested. If enough Houstonians stand up for their rights to private property, White presumably won't push through the extreme surveillance program. But if Texans don’t stand for the idea that a man's home is his castle, the plan will almost assuredly move ahead.
And camera fever isn't confined to just those two cities. Voters in Philadelphia, birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, may have a chance to weigh in. A city councilman there wants to put the idea of cameras in high-crime areas to a popular vote. Philadelphians may want to consider the example of Chicago and Houston before embarking what is likely to be a slippery slope.
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That's a proposal I could get behind :)
All kidding aside, until they propose such a scenario they best rethink these other assinine ideas.
Since most of the things that most people don't want caught on camera are not illegal, but rather, shameful, when faced with the march of surveillance, for people to remain free they need to adopt a bigger dose of "SO WHAT?" then they are accustomed to.
Yes, I bought beer. SO WHAT?
Yes, I smoked a cigar in the alley. SO WHAT?
Yes, I bought two porno CD's. SO WHAT?
Yes, I had a drink with the hottie in accounting. SO WHAT?
The whole ability to lynch people, especially politically, for little moral pecadilloes only works if most of private life of most people is not recorded.
Consider the PeeWee Herman case. Now, granted, diddling in the back of the theater was not the move of a brainiac, but the whole faux-shock: My GOD, the man DIDDLES watching PORN (GASP!!!) which ended his career...that only works because everyone else in the country doesn't have a camera in his/her shower.
You start really surveilling people - and the Hollywood types have lived under that sort of scrutiny longer - and the only possible responses are to either wilt in a puddle of self-loathing apology for being HUMAN (what your enemies HOPE you will do, so as to be able to manipulate you through the fear of "exposure" of the fact that you are a human (i.e., sinful), or you get a big dose of SO WHAT brazen bravado, precisely like Hollywood does.
Chances are, people are not going to turn into Puritans if you surveil them very long. Rather, they will lower the overall moral standards of society so that they can't be manipulated anymore by the bastards who control the cameras.
There is another option. I will call it the French option. There, there is a strict legal right of privacy, and if you start intruding on it, publishing things, etc., you get prosecuted for a crime.
Either people can protect their privacy and the current structure of morality by using the law to punish anybody who pushes a camera where it doesn't belong and attempts to use any information there, or people will have no privacy, everything will be on camera, and everyone will brazen it out.
The choice is really France, where people commit their sins and it is a criminal offense to tell anybody else about it even if you find out, or Hollywood, where everybody commits his sins on camera and doesn't give a damn.
What isn't going to happen in this life is a world where, because people are surveiled, they stop sinning. Exposed to the bright light of relentless scrutiny, people will not forego the pleasures of life in order to uphold tradition morality. Rather, they'll beat morality to death with a club so it can't both them anymore. Traditional morality always has reposed on plausible deniability and hypocrisy. If you strip away all of the ability to hide, people won't become more moral they'll become more brazen.
Hollywood is brazen because American laws don't let people hide from those who want to pry.
Paris is more discreet, because French law punishes people who pry as felons, and truth is no defense to an assault on privacy.
Because I am a fan of public morality, and think that the veneer of good manners and correct behavior is well worth the price of hypocrisy that supports it, I think that the French approach of criminalizing efforts to pry into private life is preferable to the argument "If you are not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about."
Everyone is doing something wrong.
Anybody care to have a camera installed in EVERY room of their house, on ALL the time?
Didn't think so.
If there is a right to privacy, and abortion under the XIV ammendment, then there is certainly a right not to have Chief 'pervert' Hurtt spying on Houstonites.
If I only had a nickle for every time I have seen some lamebrain on FR write that.
Of course, the police chief will be first to set a good example by installing a camera in his own home.
And on the politicians person as well. A live Internet feed every second of every day. No group needs watching more than politicians.
We'll be able to spot corruption and theft immediately. As the Huston cop says "if (the politicians) are not doing anything wrong, why should (they) worry about it?"
How many times have I heard people make this argument? When I'm taking a cr*p, I'm not doing anything wrong, but I don't want to be camcorded. Got it?"
Yep! The old slippery slope has turned into a steep hill and covered with ice.
This might just bite brer Hurtt in the arse rather quickly:
I think we can all agree on that :-)
HA! People from all over the country contributing.
Dick Daley peeping up little girls dresses coming to a bathroom near your!
And there appears to be no brakes on the skates.
Yep, the slippery slope is getting steeper.
But I remain convinced that Americans are so reflexively superstitious about "The Rule Of Law" that they will go right off the end of the slippery slope and accept tyranny, so long as the tyranny is legally and correctly instituted, rather than develop an ethic of selective observance of the law, and intentional breaking of bad law.
This can never be repeated enough!!
Sure. Powerful anti-freedom authoritarians have the law on their side. The only way to defeat them is to lessen the general, reflexive respect for "The Law", when the law is bad. If people are superstitiously obedient to the concept of "The Rule of Law", the authoritarians will always rule, because that is what they have at their command.
The only way to beat them is to relax the rigorous belief in "Buddy, it's the LAW". One has to develop the capacity to say "Yeah, but the law is BAD, and we're not going to abide (or obey) obnoxious and bad laws."
I don't think Americans have it in them.
They are too superstitious about law.
America is, after all, a plurality German country.
So, what to do? Laugh? Cry? Fight?
I say fight - and get some brakes on the skates finally.