By LONNIE BARHAM I'm a retired Army officer who spent seven years in his twenties as a local police officer. You would think that I would favor any legislation or government policy that enhances law enforcement or that makes more difficult the legal
I’m a retired Army officer who spent seven years in his twenties as a local police officer. You would think that I would favor any legislation or government policy that enhances law enforcement or that makes more difficult the legal circumvention of laws. And I do, so long as those laws and policies truly enhance public safety without unduly infringing upon Americans’ rights – especially our right to privacy.
Let there be no misunderstanding here. Our local, state and federal governments are encroaching more and more every day on our privacy rights. Two recent examples are illustrative.
Three Rhode Island cities – Cranston, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket – have installed license plate recognition cameras throughout their cities. While these cameras are much more adept than are police officers at scanning license plates to identify cars with wanted criminals or missing persons, they also record and track the movement of every vehicle they scan – the vast majority of which are driven by law-abiding citizens going about their daily activities.
Why is this a problem, you might ask. Why should I care who’s watching me? I’ve done nothing wrong.
Think of it this way. Although you are a law-abiding citizen, would you want to have a police officer assigned to follow you every day – every time you leave your house? From the time you pull out of your driveway, that police car follows you everywhere you go. When you stop to go into a supermarket, the police officer follows you inside and watches your every move. The only time you can get away from the officer’s watchful eyes is when you return home and lock your door behind you.
That’s what our society has become. In our quest for safety, we have resigned ourselves to constant surveillance by government and by private entities. When you drive down the street, surveillance cameras watch your every move. When you walk across a parking lot, surveillance cameras track you. When you walk around a store, cameras take note of everything you do.
Even George Orwell would be appalled. Big Brother is here and he is watching our every move.
The unease engendered by this constant, pervasive surveillance is exacerbated by the total creepiness of the whole thing. Add to this the possibility that all the information collected about your movements could easily be misused by anyone who has access to the surveillance data. A vengeful public servant, a disgruntled private employee, or even a political adversary could misuse surveillance of your legal activity to cause you harm.
And now we learn that Democrats at the federal level want to vastly widen surveillance of all Americans’ banking activities. Previously, banks were required to report to the IRS all banking activities that exceeded $10,000 in one transaction. Now the Biden administration wants to require banks to report any activity that exceeds $600 in one transaction or that cumulatively reaches a total of $600 in a year.
That basically covers everyone who has a bank account. Is there anyone who doesn’t – in the course of an entire year – deposit, withdraw, transfer, write checks, etc., that don’t cumulatively total at least $600?
So, with police cameras covering your every movement outside your home, and IRS eyes watching your every banking transaction, what’s next? A government dictate that every home have an Alexia or Echo device that listens to and records your conversations, and a smart TV with a camera that watches you at all times?
Wokeism, Newspeak, social media censorship, and government surveillance are already pushing us toward Oceania, the fictional city in George Orwell’s novel, “1984.” How long before we all become Winston Smiths? How long before Orwell’s “Big Brother” is no longer just a fictional, cautionary idea?
As we allow our privacy rights to slowly erode in the name of safety and security, we must remember Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “… those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
While at the time of its utterance, Franklin’s quote did not apply to surveillance and the kind of privacy deprivations we experience today, the words themselves do apply.
No, Franklin couldn’t have imagined the trade-off we seem willing to make today as we give up liberty for safety. Yet, George Orwell could and did. We should listen to Orwell!
Lonnie Barham of Conimicut is a retired Army colonel who in his twenties served as a police officer in Groton, Connecticut