surveillance: close observation, especially of a suspected spy or criminal
state: 1 the particular condition that someone or something is in at a specific time; [in singular] (a state) an agitated or anxious condition. 2 a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government. 3 the civil government of a country. - New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd edition
The NSA has a complete list of your YouTube baby cat obsessions. They know about your concerns with a sebaceous cyst on your back popping and causing a serious infection, and that dot on your thigh that may or may not just be a boil… but WebMD has made you suspect that you have some symptoms of hip and tooth cancer. And without a doubt they know that you have at least one pair of pants with a crotch rip in them because within the last five years you looked up how to patch a pair of denim pants.
They know that you have fish, or they can assume, because you looked for an explanation to why your freshwater snail named “Johnny Depp” died. Though, you secretly know why… know something they cannot know: that Johnny died because of sadness of the heart. But, then you think to yourself snails cannot die of heart sadness, they barely have a heart. Though, I suppose they may feel more than I give them credit for. Maybe we need to surveil them! Find out what all these freshwater snails are thinking. They’re like little underwater garbage collectors. Does that mean they’re like garbagemen? Do they have a mafia? Is there a Federal Bureau of Marine Investigation? Are they in my fish tank? Do they hear me slur in my sleep? Are they listening!?
Without doubt, it is possible. But I would honestly be surprised if they had the ability to surveil people by bugging the living creatures in a person’s fish tank. That said, the government can do all sorts of things. They can reasonably assume you like to look at women who wear arm garters and lace-trimmed corsets, and little else. Whether you harbor bisexual tendencies… are a closeted homosexual… like sad movies… like Justin Bieber… only eat at Arby’s after spending a few hours at a local bar.
All of this is a victory in the name of progress. A new playing field. We are safer.
History has shown that when this level of gray area information collection occurs, innocent people get burned at the stake, and the real witches sit back and watch the whole system burn itself down.
And that seems nice, because paranoid hyper-focused agoraphobic security types would have us all believe that we need this level of indiscriminate surveillance to keep us all alive and buying hybrids and stocks and super-sized diabetic inducing concoctions. After all, Government is not all that bad, right? They haven’t banned coffee yet. We’re still allowed to grow our own food if we wish, and if you arrange your life in such a way, you never have to acknowledge that vajazzling was an actual trend. So what’s the problem with the collection of our whereabouts, our email habits, and who we call on our phones and what we search for on the Internet?
Two things: if this level of surveillance is necessary, then the Fourth Amendment has to be amended to allow it, otherwise the government is whitewashing the shit out of glaringly messed up practices that fly in the face of one of the big precepts that founded this country: a person is innocent until proven guilty. It does not matter what you are looking for, you cannot simply obtain a citizen’s personal and private information without at least probable cause for a crime, or impending crime.
The second problem with a surveillance state (which is the bigger problem) is not necessarily that everything is being watched, but that everything collected can be used as evidence in a courtroom. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that social networks like Facebook gave the government a lot of ideas on how to keep a tap on people. They must have welcomed the moment they realized that they could simply search Facebook to solve crimes.
I chose “surveillance state” as the words for this week’s post because the phrase reminds me of 1984 and countries that began collecting information on a similar scale in the name of sovereign protection, but lost their ways and ended up hurting the very people they claimed they would protect.
Our country has made this mistake before during the McCarthy era. Joseph McCarthy was a delusional senator who convinced government officials to investigate people in America to prevent Communism. It was a fantastic failure, and though they did not have the scope of technology our government does now, it’s reasonable to believe the same kind of surveillance would have been employed.
I am not yet afraid of this government, because I think that it can be fixed. But, history has shown that when this level of gray area information collection occurs, innocent people get burned at the stake, and the real witches sit back and watch the whole system burn itself down.
The antidote to a surveillance state is, and can only be, an education system that produces citizens unburdened by debt, and wanting to take advantage of their talents. With a lot of luck, We the People may again force the Government to embrace the idea that a well-informed republic of free people can govern itself efficiently well.