June 13, 2005

Keeping the State Weak

I ran across an article on street cameras themed on the idea that they're really not such a bad thing for civil liberties. It's not a bad piece but misses the real problem of the cameras, they make the state too strong. A society where everything done by an individual in public is captured, stored, collated, and attached to a personal file makes it too easy to keep tabs on dissidents, on the loyal opposition, even on personal enemies of those in power.

The US has plenty of experience with corrupt governments. The municipal history of most major urban centers in the US can lay out entire corrupt eras where the city was controlled by this or that corrupt "machine". Corruption is not something that is of mere theoretical interest but a real, live concern that is a problem from the beginning of the Republic to today.

So what happens when those street cameras are controlled by a corrupt group that is technically savvy? There are no civil liberties problems per se with cameras but they make overthrowing the corrupt regime much more difficult. They are not a technology that can be turned off with a change in administrations. One bought election and they can be turned from a crime fighting tool serve an alternate role as a political discipline tool. Defy the machine and your business suffers as anybody in (or contracted with) city government who patronizes your store is caught on tape and given grief on the job. That sort of pressure could be done in the past by posting someone to watch a business and take down names but it was expensive, detectible, and embarrassing if the papers caught wind of it and snapped a picture or two of the political machine's spy.

People don't like to think about their government turning corrupt a few administrations down the road so the concern turns itself into a bogus fear about civil liberties. The problem of street cameras is real, though. They should be avoided where possible.

Posted by TMLutas at June 13, 2005 09:55 AM