Land of the Free Is Becoming Home of the Monitored

In the near future, on a beautiful, sunny day in a public park in Anytown, USA, a stern, garbled voice blares out of a leftover civil-defense speaker/ siren: “Sir, you are pushing your son too hard on the swing! Please do not continue unless you slow down. Little boy in the blue sweatshirt; drop the sand and back away from that little girl! You will be banned if you do not stop immediately!”

The person barking out those commands and determining what actions are or are not permitted is some unqualified civil servant remotely monitoring the activities of citizens like you and me – all in the name of “Homeland Security.” Sound ridiculous? Don’t bet on it!

There is a brand of terrorism threatening our way of life in this country, and it is not being propagated by people with multisyllabic names from the Middle East. I am speaking of social terrorism. This type of terrorism is perpetuated by radical, leftwing politicians seeking to shape our culture according to their conception of what is most appropriate. In the process, our freedoms are eroding like a hurricane-battered seashore.

For example, we’ve all heard stories of people living in covenant-controlled communities not being permitted to fly our nation’s flag on holidays because it is an “eyesore.” Recently, in West Hollywood, Calif., a law was passed making it illegal to de-claw your own cat! In San Francisco, legislation was enacted where city workers desiring a sex change can have the procedure covered by their health plan. Are you kidding me? How about focusing on real issues instead of forcing political correctness down our throats?

As electronic security practitioners, we have a moral obligation to make sure the equipment we manufacture and deploy is used the way it was intended. We cannot allow these same extremists to use our high-tech surveillance systems and equipment in (Big Brother) ways they determine as being in society’s best interests.

According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, in 1996 the city of Glendale, Calif., hired a security consultant to create a “safe” park. So they installed an 8-foot-high wrought-iron fence with a curved top around the perimeter that would be the envy of any maximum-security prison. Next, they installed waist-high, hollow-steel posts with infrared sensors and cigar-sized cameras around the shrubbery.

Nowhere in the park, mind you, was there any signage informing people that they were possibly being watched. The system was designed so that, if anyone entered the park after 10 p.m., the sensors would turn on the sprinklers and soak the intruder, who would presumably be trapped and waiting for arrest. As of today, not a single arrest has been made! In my mind, such “security” is ridiculous and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

This example is not an isolated case. The installation of CCTV systems in public parks with no tangible intended purpose other than making people (falsely) believe they are safe is becoming a routine occurrence. Although this may seem like great news to the manufacturers and installers of these systems, is it really the direction we want to go? In the long run, I believe it is detrimental to both society and our industry.

Consider this, on the streets of England, it is reported that each person is viewed by more that 300 cameras a day. Would these cameras have prevented an attack on the magnitude of the World Trade Center or stopped the anthrax scare if they had happened in London? No way!

Street cameras were originally installed in shopping districts to help catch purse-snatchers, muggers, shoplifters or other run-of-the-mill criminals, and they were an effective deterrent. However, the world has changed dramatically and today’s criminal is much more brazen and innovative. Therefore, we must change the way we combat them.

It’s time to stop the misinformed, ill-advised and misguided use of electronic security devices. We can’t allow outdated thinking to determine the fate of new security technology. Otherwise, the next time you are in a public restroom, you may be startled by a voice telling you: “Hey mister, don’t forget to wash your hands!”

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