The State of Surveillance Revisited

camerasA surveillance state is a country where the government engages in pervasive surveillance of large numbers of its citizens and visitors. Do we live in a surveillance state? Some would argue that we do, but it’s not like living in Russia or China. But do YOU live in a state of surveillance?

I wrote about this topic here last year and the topic continues to be in the news. Surveillance is often pushed as necessary to fight terrorism. That’s the big one right now, but it is also touted as a way to prevent crime.

droneIn the worst surveillance states, it is used to control the population, especially when there are protests and social unrest. Even in the best states, surveillance on a massive scale threatens privacy rights, civil and political rights and freedoms.

Thankfully, it seems that the worst of surveillance hasn’t hit America yet because there are legal, constitutional protections.

In 2013, Edward Snowden’s global surveillance disclosure freaked a lot of people out on both sides of the issue – those shocked by what was being done to them and those shocked that the secrets were being made public.

My earlier post had been inspired by an interview with Andrew Ferguson (author of The Rise of Big Data Policing) that points out that Amazon and other companies have “allowed” us to create a surveillance state around our lives and, as Ferguson says, “somehow as consumers we seem okay with giving up this information to a private company.”

That is the part that is really frightening to me. We are creating our own surveillance state. We are giving up our privacy voluntarily  – although companies and the government are quite willing to help.

We should watch what is happening in China as a cautionary story.  Their city surveillance systems scan facial features of people on the streets and match this information against scanned faces of “suspects” in government databases.

China is not unique. Many countries have added thousands of surveillance cameras, especially in urban areas. That includes the U.S.  The ACLU said back in 2017 that we are “in danger of tipping into a genuine surveillance society.”

Clearview has been working with law enforcement agencies to match photos of unknown faces to people’s online social media photos which it is legally collecting…



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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

One thought on “The State of Surveillance Revisited”

  1. Andrew Yang, former democratic candidate for president, was the only one talking about this serious issue. However, I am not sure his solution to the problem went far enough. Basically, Yang conceded we have surrendered our privacy but that it is simply too late to put the genie back in the bottle. Thus, he proposed the freedom dividend which would have given us all 1000 dollars a month, from a tax on “Big Tech,” as payment for surrendering our data, our property. The problem is that it leaves the private surveillance state in tact. We need stricter opt-in laws like the ones in Europe to start. But we need a cultural shift away from the “I want what I want now as quickly as possible” mind set to one focused on quality of life not quantity. Not sure how that would happen. But I am glad that the millennials are more vocal about this than the Boomers who obsessed about work while trying to maintain a dream life of blissful consumption. Maybe 1000 dollars a month could have helped us to rethink our priorities.


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