Monday, April 06, 2009

Harbingers of Dangerous Archetypes

There is a place near work where I usually go for lunch. There are a few fast food places there, and a good parking spot in the shade, usually vacant, which overlooks an intersection nearby a freeway.

Because I work evenings, I get to see all the people heading home at the end of the day, and because of the location, I see airplanes passing overhead.

It's a good spot to sit and listen to the radio or read.

There was a camera mounted on top of one of the street light posts. This is fairly common in southern California, everywhere you look, you'll spot cameras at busy intersections, monitoring traffic to ensure a minor break down doesn't instantly back up for miles. But this camera was a remote control camera. It was mounted on a housing that allowed it to be rotated on its post, and tilted up and down. I noticed this camera more, because when I parked each day, it was pointed in a direction other than where you would expect. The bulk of the traffic came from two directions, and this camera seemed to point every way but those. (nor did it point at me, which I most certainly would have taken note of)

I'd idly wonder what the camera was for, and who was controlling it, but think little of it.

Some time later, another camera appeared below the first. It was a fixed position camera, and pointed at the bulk of the traffic, where one would expect it to point were it of limited mobility. I figured they wanted to be able to keep a permanent eye on the traffic, while looking around. Not a big thing, it just kind of made sense to me.

Some time later, another camera, exactly like the second appeared under the second. Fixed position camera, pointed at the same lane as the second. Again the movable camera on top pointed every way but at the traffic. I thought this odd.

Some time later, ANOTHER CAMERA, exactly like the third appeared under the third. Fixed position camera, pointed at the SAME lane as the third.

There were now four cameras atop this traffic light pole, and three of them pointed in the exact same direction. The cameras are pretty high up, there's no way the field of vision of one needed to be supplemented to view the entire street. The street also ran further back, and around a bend, but the cameras were pointed, seemingly at the same point in each lane of traffic on that street.

There was no reason for the overlap unless the vision was limited. Then I realized that the three cameras were older models that the one on top, and thought they might not have as good resolution. Then I thought perhaps they were zoomed in on each lane. One old camera with poor resolution could easily discern traffic conditions, but not provide clear pictures of drivers or license plates. If one were to use a manual zoom on the aged cameras, they would be able to do so, but for a limited range of visibility. So you'd need three cameras to watch three lanes with enough visibility to catch each front license plate, and face. Then I realized front license plates are not actively ticketed in Orange County. LA county tickets them mercilessly, because of their red light cameras, but it's not primary concern in OC. If they wanted license plates, they would turn them to see the cars passing, not approaching the intersection.

So what then?

I realize these seemingly redundant cameras are probably completely benign, and likely just another reminder of the wastefulness of governments, or an indication of three bureaucracies that insisted on a complete camera of their own...

But that doesn't mean I have to like watching street lights turned into surveillance towers, or that I should just shut up and eat my fries.

These kinds of things are harbingers of dangerous archetypes.

They are systems that are being implemented now, with good intentions, by honorable people. But that does not preclude them from being misused in the future by people who see troubling possibilities and opportunities in these objects that did nothing to raise our ire for so many years, and successfully blended into the background of our vision.

It's like watching sex offenders people be actively tracked by GPS, just because we think they're evil and are so likely to repeat their crimes that we must release them into the general population for some reason. People would support permanently locking up criminals like child molesters, but that's not provided as an option. Instead, we're asked to approve surveillance apparatuses, and websites, and databases, and checkpoints, and we are told to report any suspicious activity by our neighbors and family members, and we are offered cash prizes for doing so.

We're using a landmine as paperweight.

The benefits do not outweigh the risks.


Your Friendly Neighborhood Govt. Agent said...

This guy noticed our cameras. We need to install another camera to track him.

Fletch said...

Er-- I mean-- they make me feel safe! I was just kidding!

He who gives up freedom for safety deserves a mortgage!