By Nathan Barton
Part one is a short piece of fiction about surveillance cameras and police and public perceptions.
Surveillence cameras and their complex and sometimes amazing software are a modern fact of life. In many cities, and even suburban areas, we and our vehicle may be in the view of dozens of cameras, all recording our presence, actions, and even our identity and vehicle identification. When we pull out a credit card, or an ID and check, the cameras may be recording our personal information.
In order to “protect against identity theft,” in reality the cameras and their recordings may make identity theft even easier and more profitable. And if we have enemies or even dishonorable opponents who can get access to them, we may be facing even greater problems. As in the story.
And we know that when the media has smeared our name, face, and reputation across their screens and pages, that the chances of a fair hearing – whether it is a trial or just a public hearing in front of a council or commission, drop like a stone.
It may not matter whether we have anything to hide or not. The protagonist (victim) in my story was doing nothing wrong or immoral or illegal. But “pictures don’t lie.” So, congratulations, you are now an unindicted criminal – ripe for the picking by the local and ambitious DA, that political opponent who wants you shut up (or at least ignored), the cop angling for a promotion, or any number of people.
But innocent until proven guilty, right? Along with intelligent and dedicated juries and honest judges, the promise is honored more in the breech than in day-to-day reality. Our friend in the story may be able to prove in a court of law – even a corrupt and greedy one – that he is innocent of these trumped up charges. And the local fishwrapper will probably bury that story back with the crossword puzzle.
What can we do? Trying to just do what is right is probably (and sadly) not enough. We cannot (especially in today’s society) avoid all the immoral and illegal or quasi-illegal venues in our towns. Even in small ones. We can’t keep from making enemies, if we are trying to run a business – or just live our lives in peace and stand up for friends, family, and what is right. And we can’t possibly make our lives more an open book – that is a big part of the problem.
What we can do is what comes naturally: be helpful and friendly to other people. Even to those bureaucrats and cops and politicians that we really want nothing to do with. We can be careful about not doing something that soils our reputation – and indeed we can be careful that we have a reputation for standing up for our rights and those of others in a careful, polite, and even kind manner. We can build relationships with other people like us that will come to our aid, just as we will come to theirs. Most important, we can learn about the evil that
But all of this pales to working harder and more to get the powers of government – and that of its lickspittle media and other sycophants – reduced. Working with other people to take away powers and resources. Replacing the institutions of the state (whether town or district or county or state – or even federal) with voluntary institutions: even if some of those voluntary efforts have to themselves get involved with government agencies.
It is not easy – indeed, it is very difficult to do this. Government and its services are addictive and that habit of dependence is both easy to adopt and hard to break. But if we want to live free, we must make choices, and we must work to that goal.
Currently, the argument for police body- and car-cams is that it protects people from abuse by police. We are told that their use by police is and will be carefully controlled, that privacy will be respected. Images are secure, software and systems are adequate. (But we know that the most secure system in the world is only as good as the moral beliefs and self-discipline of those with the passwords.)
But the cameras – on bodies, on vehicles, in public places – work together more for the increased power and influence of police – and the agencies that support and benefit from them – than to protect people’s rights. Cameras, like anything else, are tools. But they can be used for good or for evil. To protect or to harm, to preserve liberty or take it away.
It seems to me that cameras under control of police, and therefore subject to political use all the time, are too often going to be used for evil purposes. In the hands of courts and judges, the power of the image seems to be much greater, and much more dangerous to liberty.