Surveillance State

white security camera
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A year ago the police would have been called if you entered a bank, jewelry store or many stores with a mask ON.  Today, they may be summoned if you don’t.  How much has changed in such a short time due to the unreasonable reaction to covid-19? License plate scanners? Vaccine passports?  Orwellian predictions are becoming the norm as citizens seemingly accept the loss of privacy in a trade for security, convenience or just lack of awareness.

We are increasingly aware of online censorship and the ability of Big Tech to massage the news through biased ‘fact checks’ and the use of algorithms to alter news feeds, information displays and customized news availability.  New gun control legislation would require background checks on all firearms purchases and virtually all transactions.

Senator Feinstein authored a new bill that would ban 205 rifles from sale and grandfather ownership of tens of millions of these weapons.  Curiously, provisions in the bill exist for state-level buyback programs which many see as the basis for national registry and potential confiscation. (source: newsmax.com)

COVID Vaccine passports are being debated globally.  Proposed as a digital app, they may be required for domestic and /or international travel, restaurants and sporting events. The privacy concerns are apparent as early adopters have shown.  China, Bahrain and Brunei, with limited individual freedoms, are already using tracking apps.  Location tracking has been used by Chinese law enforcement and government agencies to track movement and locations of citizens. (source: marketwatch.com) The debate is mounting in both London and N.Y.C, where vaccine passports were recently proposed.

Beyond tracking citizens’ locations, passports mandate vaccinations,  essentially a prerequisite for daily life, travel and recreation?  These proposals bring much into focus as privacy issues may be more pertinent now than when the Patriot Act was passed following 9/11.

“The very idea of the power and the right of the People to establish Government presupposes the duty of every Individual to obey the established Government.”

George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796
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But what about location tracking and visual surveillance?

Have you allowed contact tracing (covid)  software to operate on your cell phone through automatic updates or disabled such features over the last year?  Location tracking is used by many apps and we often allow them for the convenience of the service.  Who can, or does track our location, using real-time data from cell towers and GPS?  GPS utilizes radio waves between a receiver in your phone and satellites to triangulate where you are.   While most of us have no real concern about broadcasting our current location (many do so freely on social media), do we want software developers, hackers and government agencies (domestic or foreign) having access?  It may be more a matter of principle than actual concern.

The proliferation of highway toll transponders (EZ-Pass on the East Coast), traffic cameras and now license plate scanners is worrisome from a privacy standpoint. According to the Wall Street Journal, license plate scanners are being added not only to traffic lights and police cars, but even garbage trucks in Baltimore. The Journal notes that the massive visual database is used by law enforcement without the need for a warrant.

London is known for having almost 700,000 CCTV cameras for surveillance. New York City has about 10,000 with more installed annually.  While it would appear N.Y.C. has more privacy, what if we factored in all the Siri and Alexa- enabled devices listening and watching?  Consider ‘smart’ refrigerators, tabletop entertainment devices, video doorbell and security cameras all connected to WiFi and accessible to software programmers, engineers and potentially hackers.  Just something to ponder as we surround ourselves with technology and accept permissions without reading the fine print, or allow legislators to craft bills without public input and accountability. 

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”

― George Orwell, 1984

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