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As Long as We Remember...

April 7, 2008

1984 Predicts 2008

Steven R. Berryman

Enabling legislation passed by our Maryland General Assembly will allow Frederick to use red light cameras for law enforcement. Frederick is now one small step closer to becoming Montgomery County. Your accuser may be “Big Brother” instead of a police officer. Beware the trend.


Between the advances in surveillance technology and the federal governments tendency to overreact to the 9/11 terrorist incidents, we discover that British author George Orwell got it right in his speculative novel “1984.” Big Government is getting bigger, and it is erring on the side of suspicion of its own citizens.


London, England, has over 50,000 video cams watching everything, and New York City is not far behind. When you take your cash from an ATM, your picture is shot every single time. When you drive to work through Gaithersburg, you’ll pass four different intersections with 10 cameras each, some steerable remotely with zoom-in capability.


Theoretically, one day you could receive a ticket courtesy of a camera observer tucked away in some secure location for “application of eye makeup” while driving (MWD), or for “staring” at an attractive passerby for too long while motoring along (SWD).


These examples can be partially justified, but it’s the slippery slope that is scary. The problem is that as technological capability marches on, market forces themselves insure various implementations in markets to recoup research and development costs.


When constitutional rights are not upgraded and amended to account for the march of time, there is an erosion effect that all of us eventually feel.


Thank goodness for the Freedom of Information Act and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union to help keep this creeping erosion in check. That said, it is the citizen awareness itself on an individual basis that really protects best.


The intrusiveness of government and presumption of innocence of the citizenry come into play in this arena. And what will be allowed in the future in terms of pro-active policing if derogatory pieces of information become available about you somehow?


That’s called “data-mining,” and it’s already happening right now as you are reading this column. Domestically in the U.S, spying on ourselves can be initiated via a document called a “National Security Letter” that has the ability to cause businesses, for example, to release any statistical information about their customers, the citizens, to authorities.


No judge or court order or warrant needed. Presumably, probable cause at least is used.


This range of information can include, theoretically: credit bureau reports, what ever you pay for on your MasterCard, health records, videos you have rented, anything you have ever Googled, or frequently dialed phone numbers, books checked out of the library, and your cable viewing tendencies. And just why were you looking up explosive chemical recipes on the Internet?


Ammonium nitrate, by the way, can also be used to make fertilizer!


Via computers that synthesize or process the above in computer software called algorithms, data points are aligned, correlations are examined. Big Brother is looking for suspicious activity. The results can lead to surveillance.


One mechanism currently in use combines the resources of the FBI and of the Department of Defense (Orwell would call it the Department of Peace) into operational units called “fusion centers.” Under certain circumstances they combine the resources of federal, state, and local law enforcement branches to accomplish domestic spying.


The immense capabilities of our National Security Agency (NSA) could also be employed. The Carnivore computer system can sift any signals intelligence and could be of assistance as the AT&T phone switch gateway conveniently runs through Monrovia.


If you read enough science fiction, you will eventually find a story about a future-world where citizens are arrested because of a statistical probability they may commit a crime.


Now that’s pro-active!


Other future-use items to be aware of in our ever-encroaching “Brave New World” include: laser scanners that automatically see if your car registration is current; facial recognition technology that matches people up with data-bases of open warrants; and nano-technology that can have radio frequency chips (RFIDs) implanted for tracking purposes.


All of these have legitimate uses, but beware the “dual-usage” opportunities.


But the argument is that it’s for the greater good of society. The assumption is that of a benevolent government, uncorrupted. Let us not forget that there were several reasons our Founding Fathers included the Second Amendment, one of which considered a possible tyranny evolving someday.


We must be more forward looking as a people and take safeguards.


That the “ends justify the means” is a false assumption in this case, as freedom itself is truly intended to be a pro-active pursuit. Don’t bother looking into “The Department of Truth,” as it’s all on you, brother.


Use it or lose it.

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