Friday, February 1, 2013

Surveillance

It seems odd that journalists can ignore the conditions at home to explore the conditions elsewhere. It often comes across as a purposeful shifting of focus from issues at home to similar issues abroad, but the spin is to 'pretend' that those same issues don't exist here.

A case in point is a recent NPR article on surveillance in China. You know China where they allegedly have no personal privacy rights and where the government is watching their citizens' each and every move. Never mind that they are an economically robust country. Never mind they hold much of our national debt and make many of the products we purchase and use everyday.

The NPR story would have you believe that cameras in China is reflective of closed society where the use of cameras for surveillance is wrong per se. But they ignore the presence of cameras in places like London the citadel of democracy.

This from In China, Beware: A Camera May Be Watching You"The volume of surveillance cameras on a Chinese city street can be overwhelming at times. On a stretch of road half a block from NPR's Shanghai bureau, I counted 11 cameras within a 100-foot radius."

And, this from Report: London no safer for all its CCTV cameras: "There are nearly 70 cameras on display on lampposts, sides of buildings and in the underground and mainline and train stations in a half-mile stretch of main road in Balham."

But we know that the cameras in China are to monitor dissidents to control them through intimidation, while  the cameras in London are for citizen safety. It is all how one chooses to narrow their perspective.

I am against the proliferation of cameras mainly because I don't trust government, or businesses for that matter, to protect my constitutional rights. And those that seem to feel that 'if you are doing nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear' are ignorant.

But, it isn't about what one is doing or not doing - it is about those behind the cameras watching and determining what you are doing is right or wrong. We didn't want government quartered in our residence, nor should we want that via a proxy.

Technologically - that proxy exists in our computers and mobile devices. The camera in your laptop can be turned on without your consent. The IP address of your computer easily locates you with feet of its location. Your movements can be tracked by your cell phone even if not making or receiving a call.

But you are a technophobe. Complete absence of electronic devices may be the only way to avoid tracking and location. But, the resolution of satellites belie that desire of anonymity.

It is unclear just how good is the resolution of government imaging. It is generally known that the imaging of commercial satellites and drones is extremely good. The GeoEye-1 satellite "can resolve objects on the ground as small as 41 cm across (16 inches)."  The ARGUS drone camera "can cover areas of up to 15 square miles at a glance while still spotting objects as small as six inches around from heights of 17,500 feet. "

Something that might give you some pause is the use of imaging in Afghanistan. Take a peek of this video from Military.com 7 Insurgents vs. AC-130. One cannot see the faces of the seven individuals, but their movements are easily discerned. Imagine if they had a cell phone, or some other electronic device,  on them - it might be possible in the 'free world' to identify the person down to fingerprints, driver or other license, medical and dental records, credit history, etc.

Think too about just how good must be the drones that are used to execute the suspected terrorists in places like Somalia. I don't know, but I would not be surprised that agencies like the CIA and NSA have the better equipment. Decades ago I worked inside the NSA.

We seemed to have slipped into some state of unconsciousness. We seem to be oblivious to the ease by which each person can be tracked. Too many give up their privacy relying on some implied, or even explicit, promise that the ordinary private details will remain private. Superficially, it is the commercial world that acts as the surrogate 'big bother.' But the government is the invisible shadow looking over their shoulders.

Reality of the capability of the government to snoop may be found in the CBS program Person of Interest. There computers are capable of individual resolution, located and tracked each and every step. The PBS program Rise of the Drones lends credibility to that premise.

Our government seems to be more and more  government that sees individual rights as potential threats. This is a government that seems fit to take human life based upon suspicion - no need for trial and jury. It is a government that abducts citizens of other countries while walking the streets of their country. It is a government that has determined that certain Americans can be arrested and detained without a warrant. It is a government that determines that you can be stopped on the street without cause merely because you are in a place they think you shouldn't be. It is a government that will censor what is provided to you even under the guise of "publicly available."

Again, it isn't about what one is doing or not doing - it is about those behind the cameras watching and determining what you are doing is right or wrong. Being watched is itself an intimidation.

Resources:
Rise of the Drones (PBS Video)

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