I am astounded at how easily people will throw away their privacy. Once again, Vancouver police are asking for more surveillance cameras to monitor the streets, and once again, Vancouverites are more than willing to help the local Big Brother watch their every move — all the name of security.
In a web poll that’s currently in progress on Canada.com (yes, I go to that site too much), over 70% of respondants so far think it’s a good idea to add more cameras. Are they on crack?
Hold on. No, they just want to keep any eye on those who are on crack. (Ooh, I’m off on a grade-A rant now.)
I think the real problem is that, in general, people don’t think it will affect them personally. “The police only watch criminals,” they might say. Or: “I’m not hiding anything… why should I worry?”
We should worry because, when police begin to collect information about your comings and goings, you should consider what the police think that your hiding.
Let me give you an example. You may have a daily routine: leave in the morning on a certain route; stop at the drug store; go to the corner store on the way back; and by your regular route, arrive back home. Perfectly innocent.
Then, one time, on impulse, you vary your route. You walk down a different street, and maybe stop at the other corner store instead. The police have this on record, and if it suited them, they might ask themselves why the different route? Maybe they were looking for a person who held up the corner store that day, and sure enough, here’s someone who inexplicably varied their usual routine. You have just become a suspect.
Certainly, this might be an unusual scenario (I hope), but the consequence of surveillance is that innocent people will become aware that they are being watched and their actions recorded. Any time you leave the privacy of your home, you may be conscious of the camera and you may modify your behaviour accordingly. When the camera misses nothing, you may feel the need to suppress an urge to do something as simple as varying your route. Or saying hello to a neighbor. Or wearing something too colourful. Or spontaneously varying your route or visiting the park.
The scenario in which you become a suspect is hopefully rare, but the rest, I feel, is a certainty. Under those conditions, we will no longer be living in a free society; we will have given up too much.
I’m not big on dead-guy quotes, but here’s one that I’d like to leave you with. In 1784, Benjamin Franklin said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Once we lose essential liberty, it may be impossible to get it back.