“If the government has been monitoring my phone conversations, by God, they should be paying half of my phone sex bill.” – David Letterman
In Britain, the Lords constitution committee is concerned that surveillance and collection of personal data are “pervasive” in British society and could undermine democracy, says a 6 February 2009 report from the BBC.
“There can be no justification for this gradual but incessant creep towards every detail about us being recorded and pored over by the state,” committee chairman and Tory peer Lord Goodlad said.
One area of most concern was the proliferation of CCTV cameras. A 2004 European Commission report found that Britain has the highest density of CCTV cameras in Europe: At that time, 40,000 cameras monitored public areas in 500 British towns and cities, compared to fewer than 100 cameras in 15 German cities and no open-street CCTV at all in Denmark.
For the record, the US is no chump when it comes to surveillance. Hark back to our infamous President Nixon infamously defending his own illegal wiretapping of Americans, telling David Frost, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
Astonishingly that’s all that President George W. Bush fetched from Nixon’s surveillance experience. His own defence? “When the Commander in Chief does it, it is not illegal.” Indeed.
For the record, anybody can get a complete advanced surveillance system with four cameras, DVR and monitor for under $1500, should you have someone worth stalking. Just last November, the New York Police Dept. launched the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, an aggressive downtown surveillance system modelled after – you guessed it – the “ring of steel” surveillance initiative in London’s financial district. As of this writing, 30 NYC officers in the command centre are monitoring 150 closed-circuit cameras trained on Wall Street. The department claims that there will be 3000 cameras in the financial district by 2011.
By all means, technology should continue to come to the aid of international security, but, as history has soundly demonstrated, not at the expense of individual rights. Among the many reports of CCTV and other electronic surveillance there appears to be no attendant system of safeguards to prevent abuse of such monitoring.
It’s not too much to ask. A nation that doesn’t shy away from the task of protecting its citizens also upholds the principles of democracy.
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