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Volume 71, Issue 135, Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Opinion

Smile ... you're on candid camera

JONATHAN WATSON
OPINION COLUMNIST

I don't want to alarm anyone, but many of us are being watched. Security cameras have long been prevalent in modern American society, but within the last few years we have now reached an unprecedented level of surveillance. 

I'm not even going to mention Bush's controversial wiretapping program, but look around. There are red-light cameras, cameras in parking lots and HPD cameras on "dangerous" corners. Several cities around the country have been installing surveillance cameras in public, and they've been all over England for some time now. 

For most of this semester, I have been working on a pretty large tattoo on my right arm at Sacred Heart Studio. Danny Zorilla (an amazing artist) had done me a favor and made an appointment with me before the shop had technically opened. I arrived a little early and Danny was running a little late so I was just walking around in front of the shop twiddling my thumbs. Casually, I crossed the street toward a restaurant that is next door to Sacred Heart. 

I heard this out of nowhere: "Caution, you are under surveillance by the Houston Police Department!" There was an inconspicuous black box attached to a telephone pole that had bellowed this ominous message. The thing that really bothered me was that I wasn't sure where the camera was. 

I spoke with Danny about it, and he said that the shop had been trying to get it removed because it hurt their business sometimes. If this sort of thing bothers you, I would suggest that you go down to Sacred Heart and see it for yourself sometime. While you're there you might ask the people there what you can do to help get it removed. 

As free people we cannot afford to begin accepting treatment like this. I know the explanations seem valid. They're there to catch red-light runners, criminals, terrorists, etc. What must be taken into account is that allowing our law enforcement to have unfettered surveillance even in public places is completely against what this nation is supposed to stand for. 

There has been a lot of concern over the Patriot Act and its subsequent act that goes even further. Whatever the justifications for the Patriot Act may be, imagine the future possibilities if we allow public surveillance to go unchallenged in the new age the act has created. These cameras are history in the making, in that they are creating a precedent that will eventually lead to further encroachments on our daily liberty. If we go silently, we give tacit acceptance to the resignation of our right to privacy. 

I am not trying to raise concern over the Patriot Act or the National Security Agency wiretapping program here. Those are both entirely different debates, but together they paint a picture of a changing America. The cameras appearing on every street corner are a far more subtle yet greatly more invasive development. 

Consider the outrage over the NSA programs. Dissent was brought primarily on the possibility that private citizens, who were not potential security risks were being monitored without a warrant. The government defended its program by saying that it merely targeted suspected terrorists. These cameras search the public with impunity. They can do everything that the NSA was accused of doing, and with more precise technology, in the future they could do much more. 

Riot police have already been caught scanning crowds of war protesters with cameras, zooming in on individual faces. Why do you suppose they would be ordered to do that? How do you think such motives will transfer when all of us are being watched? Talk about a police state. 

Send comments to dccampus@mail.uh.edu

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