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What happens when the Culture of Surveillance meets the Culture of Corruption?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

How much privacy are you willing to forgo to improve security? Facial recognition software is getting very good and law enforcement is increasingly using it to solve crimes by collecting images in databases. However, millions of Americans are being swept into these databases, and few of them have any idea. Americans are losing their anonymity in the name of safety.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A feature article by the Washington Post details how photo databases and facial recognition software are becoming tools for law enforcement, and that more and more citizens are being swept into them without any knowledge.

This goes beyond the official mugshot for a suspect or a prison inmate. People on the street can be photographed and included in the time it takes to walk by a camera. In some states, DMV photos are being added to the police records, to allow easier identification of suspects and witnesses.

In some states, the privacy controls are so lose that law enforcement can access photo databases and conduct a facial recognition search with even the most superficial reason.

This combines with the fact that our phone and internet activity is being swept into a massive national database by the National Security Administration and that our calls can be tapped by even low-level agents without much cause at all.

All this surveillance has a payoff. The NSA says its mass-data collection and domestic surveillance program has stopped at least 50 terror plots. Police likewise say their use of facial recognition software has cracked cold cases, and solved crimes that would have otherwise remained unpunished.

There's little question all this surveillance is making us safer. There's no telling how many crimes have been prevented and lives saved, but we can probably assume the figure is substantial.

So far, most Americans seem to be okay with living in a high-surveillance world. For the most part, we cheerfully hand over our privacy to private firms and neighbors via the social networks. And we're blissfully unaware of what the government and law enforcement is doing.

Since all of this activity occurs in the background, by design, we never notice it, and we continue to live our lives unimpeded by databases and archives. So what if a camera sweeps over your face and catalogues your presence at a sporting event or in the airport? Nothing to hide, nothing to fear right?

For most, the fuss ends there. What need have we of worry if both the government and law enforcement agree to play fair and use the data only to stop terrorists and criminals?

The problem is that over time things change. The forbidden becomes acceptable and the acceptable becomes forbidden. What you do lawfully today, may be questioned tomorrow. Worse, with the government and law enforcement so empowered, those with power will eventually use all means at their disposal to retain their positions of privilege, even if it costs you dearly. This is human nature, and we have seen it played out on the world stage time and again. Consider the corruption of King David in ancient Israel. Recall the treason of Charles I and Louis XVI who called for armies to march against their own people. Need we Mention the "Great Leap Forward" of Mao, or the depredations of the North Korean dictators? What of the world's Assads? What happens in a generation when Obama is regarded historically as a mere "moderate?" Given the growing culture of corruption in our government, we need to take warning.

Terrorists and criminals are bad people. They do evil things and must be stopped. However, history has shown the greatest evil that can befall a population is not an act of terrorism or a crime wave. Instead, the greater evil is from governments that go corrupt and begin to view the people as a resource to be managed rather than human beings whose rights should be respected.

Criminals harm by the thousands. Governments harm by the millions.

It must be noted one crucial difference between the Husseins and Qaddafis and Kings George. These men did not have all-seeing surveillance programs. They did not have predator drones, stealth bombers, and M1A1 main battle tanks. Our government does. Go ahead and keep your guns, they won't serve you so well upon the next Lexington Common or North Bridge.

When we quietly acquiesce our rights to government agencies in casual increments, we increase the danger future generations must face.

What happens when today's right becomes tomorrow's wrong? What happens when all anonymity is lost? How do you protest then? How do you go online and post your opinion? It is said, give a man a mask and he will tell the truth. There's a reason why confession occurs behind a screen. What truth will be spoken when the screens are gone and the masks are outlawed?

There is no new thing under the sun. Criminals and terrorists have always been and always will be. No camera will stop an act of depraved violence, if the attacker is determined. However, a camera will enable the government to impose its police authority on the people.

We do not need pervasive ways to combat crime and violence. What we need is a new way to conduct government. Rather than point the cameras at the people, we should point the cameras at our lawmakers, our police, and our domestic surveillance services.

The government will watch the criminals, but in the brave new world of mass-surveillance, who will watch the government?

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