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10/15/2003 Archived Entry: "Big Brother in the bar and on the street corner"

TWO NEWSBITS FROM THE WORLD OF BIG BROTHER (and from Declan McCullagh's Politech list) give more evidence that universal surveillance equals nuking a flea -- which of course doesn't merely overkill the flea, but also creates collosal collateral damage.

First, a network of bars and nightclubs in Vancouver, BC, is setting up a BigBro (tm) system in which ALL customers will have to be entered in an ID database, tracked any time they enter a member establishment, and be watched on camera every moment they're inside the business. This is supposed to catch troublemakers. But what percentage of patrons are troublemakers? And why should all patrons be treated as if they were?

This is a private system. The owners have a right to do it. But one of the justifications for it chillingly shows our frog-in-the-pot danger: "Proponents of a similar technology being used in California claim that any invasion of privacy is not alarming because there's not much privacy left to invade." (This quote is from the Politech posting, not from the above article.)

Then from Britain comes the interesting news that roadside "speed cameras" may actually increase accidents and fatality rates -- and certainly don't prevent them. Seems the mass automated ticketing of drivers who are exeeding the speed limit but not driving unsafely (for instance, going 10 kph overlimit on a dry, empty road) is alienating motorists. In response, more and more are motivated to drive unregistered vehicles, or vehicles with false license plates, or to take the attitude that if they're going to get ticketed for a minor infraction with no individual judgment or mercy, they might as well go hell-bent and enjoy themselves.

Furthermore (and boy, do we see this in the U.S., too), it's profitable and easy -- even automatic -- to catch speeders via cameras. It's very hard, drudging, unprofitable work to investigate real crimes like murder and burglary (or even genuinely reckless driving). Besides, law-abiding speeders pay their fines more reliably than actual criminals do. So police and courts appear to be focusing on catching the unwary, rather than the doers of real dirty deeds. And that, of course, further alienates and endangers ordinary citizens.

The one thing it doesn't do is discourage governments and businesses from falling in love with these technologies and policies that treat the innocent as guilty. Weird. Even if the goal of the Control Class is ... well, control and not the "safety" or "security" they claim ... ya gotta wonder how long it'll take before they realize the ultimate outcome will be a total loss of control, as all us little newborn criminals get smart and get mad.

Posted by Claire @ 10:40 AM CST

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