Sunday, July 31, 2005


Panopticon Hill

Frances Sellers has an article in the Washington Post (hat tip Betsy’s Page) about the widespread use of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in Britain. He argues that the cameras deter some crimes and for those that it doesn’t deter (like suicide bombing) it provides important evidence to police investigations. I admit that a person who is in a public place has to expect that people may be looking at him at anytime (so you people need to stop picking your noses when you’re driving). I also can see where a tool like CCTV could be very useful in deterring and solving crimes in public places without infringing on people’s privacy in private places. If America is going to follow Britain’s example and begin widespread use of CCTV to fight crime and terrorism, I suggest we start with the most dangerous high-crime area in the country. I realize that most of the crime that takes place on Capital Hill is the “white collar” type that isn’t immediately dangerous, but the secondary effects of such crimes can obviously pose a huge danger to the life, liberty, and happiness of large numbers of Americans. Crimes relating to international relations or defense could easily become dangers to our national security. If even one case of a public servant peddling influence or information to a foreign power is exposed, then wouldn’t that be worth a small infringement on our congressmen, their staffers, bureaucrats, and honest lobbyists’ anonymity? And if CCTV surveillance can help defeat terrorists, then Capital Hill has a lot of high-value terrorist targets that we need to protect.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we have hovering drones broadcast every moment of our congressmen’s lives on CSPAN3. It would be cruel and invasive to make our political servants walk around all day paranoid that some perfectly natural but embarrassing bodily function will wind up in political ads for years to come. Maybe we wouldn’t even need to have cameras actually in their offices. But the House and Senate office buildings are public buildings built with our money, and I think it is perfectly reasonable to have webcams in the halls and outside our representative’s offices so that we can use the internet to see which lobbyists are beating a path to their door. Perhaps we could require lobbyists to wear large nametags to make it easer to track them. I could even see a congressional webcam drinking game becoming popular in colleges around the nation, thereby encouraging the youth of America to learn more about their government. We’d have to outlaw the “every time the Senator drinks, you drink” rule though to prevent tragic alcohol poisoning epidemics. Sellers’s article points out that sometimes the CCTV surveillance only displaces the crime to other areas that are more poorly monitored. We should, therefore, also be ready for a second phase of webcam installations on the streets outside these locations listed here:

If the technology works well in DC, then we can begin expanding it to other areas throughout the nation that are high crime areas and/or likely terrorist targets. Areas like state capitals, federal buildings, and city halls.

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