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Location: California, United States

I am a neolibertarian minded individual who feels that freedom and individual rights take precedence over the wants of government. I believe government exists to serve the people and not to protect us from ourselves. I am an advocate for private firearms ownership, smaller government, reduced taxes and freedom to live your life however you choose, providing you do not directly hurt others.

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A Feast For Crows
This latest installment of Gearge R. R. Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice" series isn't quite as gripping as the previous books but is still a pretty good read.

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Saturday, February 12, 2005

Smile: You're On Camera!

I wasn't terribly surprised back when London decided to install cameras to watch many of the public areas of the city. I also wasn't surprised when they augmented this system with a network of intelligent cameras that scan all licenses plates of vehicles they see and run the numbers against a police database to check for criminals. After all, the U.K. hasn't exactly been a bastion of freedom and civil rights and has long been on a spree of disarming citizens, and prosecuting them for acts of self defense when they resist attackers, fight off burglars, etc.

I am however, surprised that this sort of thing is happening right here in our own privacy loving country. According to the Associated Press, New Orleans is:

in the first phase of installing the cameras. Eventually there will be more than 1,000. The first 240 have been installed, at a cost of $4.5 million.
In my opinion, this is horrifying! It is wrong for your government to spy on you when you have not given them specific cause to observe you. Many may ask: "What's the matter? Do you have something to hide?" Well as a matter of fact, I do. I have a law abiding constructive life I intend to hide from the government to the best of my abilities. I am not obligated to share the details of my life with anyone, least of all my government, except in matters of taxation or if I am suspected of a specific crime. The bottom line is this: What people legally do is their own private business and should not be subject to monitoring, filming, photography or any other kind of scrutiny.

Here's another quote from the Associated Press article:
Don't call it Big Brother, however. City officials insist it's much more like the old days when cops walked a beat than like government spying.
Wrong! A human being patrolling a beat means a real thinking and armed person trained in first aid and other useful skills is continuously moving throughout an area in order to provide help and notice problems. If nothing bad happens to draw his attention, the things that he saw and heard fade from his memory. He does not make a note of every person he sees, when they come, who they are with, where they go, etc. The only thing that gets recorded by a beat cop are things that are significant to law enforcement and public safety. A camera does not share this same selectivity. It records the actions of everyone: good and bad. Also, keep in mind that while a cop can give directions to lost tourists, provide first aid, shoot muggers and detain criminals, a camera cannot.

The city feels it has implemented precautions against abuse, such as making the cameras take frequent still shots rather than video. The cameras will not be monitored by people (so they say) and the images will only be kept for 3 days, unless a set of images is pulled as evidence of a reported crime. The cameras will also randomly move and focus on different areas within their 8 block viewing area. I do not think these precautions sufficiently mitigate the potential for abuse. For one thing, how do we know they won't change their mind on how the cameras are used once they are done getting the funding and public support necessary to set up the network?

Here are some of the many bad things a hacker or unscrupulous technician could do with this system:
  • Copy and distribute "Girls Gone Wild at Mardi Gras" photos
  • Remotely case a business before a burglary and determine when police and security guards make their rounds
  • Monitor a target, such as a child or woman to learn their daily routine so that they can be attacked/kidnapped/raped (if you can see the camera images, you can also figure out where their blind spots are)
  • Scan the streets for attractive people, noting where they shop, eat, work, exercise etc. The watcher could then arrange to "accidentally" bump into them at all of their favorite places and repeatedly ask them out. Since they aren't physically following them, it would be hard to prove the watcher is a stalker.
  • Track and record people's infidelities and embarrassments in order to blackmail them
I've been sent links to video footage of attractive women, people having sex, etc., that was caught on border patrol, military and police surveillance equipment. I've also talked with credible women who swear they were pulled over for insignificant traffic violations so the cop could get a better look at them or even ask them out. While I do not think that most public safety personnel are this crude, there are a few who will exploit this system. There are bad people in every walk of life and when one of these people gets access to this system they will abuse it. This system is a dream come true for stalkers and tech savvy criminals and has no place in the realm of legitimate law enforcement in this country. Based on the cost of $4.5 million for the first 240 cameras, this system will probably cost around $18 million to finish setting up. After that, a staff will need to maintain these high tech devices, service motors, clean off vandalism, service the Wi-Fi network, replace power supplies, etc. This money would be better spent on real flesh and blood cops patrolling the streets.

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