Get that camera out of my face!

Recent use of security cameras are preventing citizens from moving about the country without being recorded. This is a problem.

By Adam Lederer | Indiana University
Original Version for IDS

Here in America, land of the free, without much notice, our privacy has slowly been eroding. It has come to my attention over the past two weeks with one national story regarding security at the Super Bowl, and one supposed major criminal break right in my home town: the arrest of a man accused of being a member of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). Both of these incidents have upset me enough to encourage me to do my best to look suspicious to anyone watching me.

Let’s just say I do not always trust my government to do the right thing and I have become immensely annoyed with the number of cameras that are out and about photographing me as I go about my personal daily business.

The most recent visible security incident was at the Super Bowl in Tampa, where every person entering the stadium had their photograph taken and the pictures run through a police database to look for terrorists and criminals in attendance. The recent acknowledgement of this security measure concerns me because you as a citizen in this country should be free to move about without your whereabouts being continually recorded

However, it was gratifying, despite the happy face that was put on the system by officials, that it was a total failure. Out of the 71,000 people in attendance, there was only one person identified: a ticket scalper, who managed to flee into the crowds and avoid capture. You cannot tell me that out of the 71,000 people in the stadium that there were actually only two criminals – the aforementioned ticket scalper and the Raven’s Ray Lewis. They had to miss a number of other convicted crooks who, having served their time, are otherwise decent citizens who have a right to move about the country in an unfettered fashion.

There is no way, however, that I can make myself look suspicious at a Super Bowl. I have no interest in attending the Super Bowl, so I have had to make myself look suspicious at home in Monroe County, Indiana, home of Indiana University. I achieved my suspect status within the community by going to Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse and purchasing 10-inch Grip-Rite spiral shank nails. 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.

Why does this make me a suspect?

It makes me a suspect because our state and national governments have taken to watching purchases at Lowe’s and photographing license plates to determine who might have been out spiking trees in an area of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest where timber sales are conducted. The circumstantial evidence these efforts turned up was good enough to arrest Frank Ambrose, a local environmental activist and accuse him of being a member of ELF.

Out of immense curiosity, I went to the Monroe County Justice Center and sat in on Ambrose’s arraignment. 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 parked near a timber sale and investigators with active imaginations. If convicted of this Class D Felony under Indiana state law, he could end up with three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

So my purchase of the 10-inch Grip Rite spiral shank nails is not enough to make me the total suspect. To achieve that goal, 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.

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. ELF members do not leave their cars parked near the sites of environmental actions. If they did, the 1998 ELF action 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 your movements and purchases are being recorded. Ultimately 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 the adult bookstore at 3 AM because you wanted to buy some pornographic videos or because you got a flat tire a block away and wanted to use their telephone? And what if you were buying condoms or porn for yourself? Whose business is it anyway?

Still images only record the fact that you bought condoms and that you were in an adult bookstore, 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.

Adam Lederer is a graduate student in Public Affairs at Indiana University. He recently learned that 10-inch Grip Rite nails come in five pound boxes, each containing 25 nails.

, , , , , ,