Tag Archives: surveillance

Surveillance State: What if the Government was a guy with a camera?

The people in this video are justifiably upset because a stranger with a camera is invading their personal space. It is our natural instinct to protect your own little “bubble” – sometime with violence (even if you aren’t doing anything wrong).

I find it strange, however, that we so readily allow the Government full access to our entire lives (email, video, phone records, bank statements, and video) without so much as a whimper. I wonder if we would react similarly (and violently) if all Government surveillance records suddenly became transparent?

Who cares about surveillance?

There are three basic reasons, that I can think of, why we should care about the Government’s mass surveillance program.

  1.  A surveillance infrastructure is already in place for future, potentially corrupted, political administrations.
  2. A mass surveillance program is a diplomatic nightmare. Leads to a loss of trust and bad-will.
  3. A mass surveillance program is against the people’s natural desire for privacy. This creates a natural and negative barrier between the people and government.
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The Surveillance State of America harkens back to Nazi Germany

In Chapter 32 of Erik Larson’s book “In the Garden of Beasts” Larson describes the wide spread fear of Nazi surveillance prevalent in Nazi Germany between 1933-1934 – in the years prior to WWII.  A concern for wide spread government surveillance, almost a century ago, is surprising and hauntingly similar to the surveillance state in America today.

Describing the concerns of Nazi surveillance in the American consulate, Larson writes:

“Prevailing wisdom held that Nazi agents had their microphones in telephones to pick up conversations…[William Dodd] (the American ambassador) filled a cardboard box with cotton…and used it to cover his own telephone whenever a conversation in the library shifted to confidential territory.”

The feeling of mass surveillance was common throughout all of Germany too:

“A common story had begun to circulate: One man telephones another and in the course of their conversation happens to ask “How’s uncle Adolf?” Soon afterward the secret police appear at his door and insist the he prove he really has an uncle Adolf and the question is not in fact a coded reference to Hitler…Here was an entire nation…infested with the contagion of an ever present fear.”

Eventually, the paranoia of surveillance became so common Berliners gave it a name:

“In the most casual of circumstances you spoke carefully and paid attention to those around you and in a way you never had before. Berliners came to practice what became known as ‘the German glance’ – a quick look in all directions when encountering a friend or acquaintance on the street.”

History shows that the surveillance state is an unfortunate institution imposed by only the most tyrannical governments. And like in Nazi Germany the United States has created a world-wide “culture of surveillance”.