Get that camera out of my face

See an extended
Get that camera out of my face,
prepared for Student Discourse

There are times to trust our government and times not to trust our government. To be honest, I’m upset with the number of photos being taken by our government and used for investigative purposes. I’m so upset I have decided to do my best to look suspicious to anyone watching me.

To that end, yesterday I purchased 10-inch Grip-Rite spiral shank nails at Lowe’s hardware store. I used my credit card and did it within full sight of the video cameras that track every purchase and every purchaser. Should the FBI need to determine who’s been buying the nails, they have me on record.

In future weekends, homework permitting, I might start hanging out in the state forests, allowing forest rangers to photograph my license plate, documenting that my car was seen in the forest — a car owned by the same person who once, on a shopping trip to Lowe’s, bought 10-inch Grip-Rite spiral shank nails.

It seems our state and national governments have taken to watching purchases at Lowe’s and tracking license plates to determine who might have been out spiking trees in the Morgan-Monroe State Forest. The circumstantial evidence these efforts have turned up has been good enough to arrest Frank Ambrose, a local environmental activist. If convicted, he could end up with three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Out of immense curiosity, I went to the Monroe County Justice Center and sat in on Ambrose’s arraignment hearing Friday. There was no discussion of the evidence at this juncture, so all I saw was a nervous 26-year-old man sitting behind the defendant’s table. He was there because of a security camera at Lowe’s, a photograph of his car near a timber sale and investigators with active imaginations.

I have never spiked a tree, nor do I have any immediate or long-term plans to do so. I have no idea whether Ambrose actually spiked the trees — but I doubt it. Members of the Earth Liberation Front don’t leave their cars parked near the sites of ecoterrorist attacks. If they did, the ELF attack at the Vail Resorts in Colorado would have been solved long ago.

What upsets me about this case is the invasion of privacy. Cameras are everywhere, and it is not possible to buy things without being recorded. I think too much information is being collected about people and it is not always being used in ethical ways.

It’s like when you register with an e-mail list for information you are interested in, and then your e-mail address gets sold. You start receiving e-mails inviting you to view “teenage sex stars,” or worse. You can at least ignore the spam with effective filters, but when people start taking photographs and using them against you, the photographs do not exist in a context — it is only a still image of a moment in time, devoid of meaning. Were you buying the package of condoms for yourself or for somebody too nervous to buy them? Were you visiting College Books because you wanted to buy some pornographic videos or because you got a flat tire a block away and wanted to use their telephone?

Still images only record the fact that you bought condoms and that you were in College Books, not your reason for being there. Some might argue you should be willing to explain why you were in a particular place if you have nothing to hide.

I disagree: The presumption should be innocence, and I shouldn’t have to explain to anybody why I have 10-inch Grip-Rite spiral shank nails. I bought them, and why I bought them is none of your business.

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