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Friday, July 1, 2011

We Must Watch the Watchers

In Clive Thompson’s WIRED article “Watching the Watchers,” the author addresses the growing popularity of sousveillance, which is the monitoring of events not by those above (surveiller in French) but by citizens, from below (sous-).  Since the Patriot Act ended the rule of law in America and brought with it the blight of totalitarianism, concerned libertarians have begun to ask quisnam vigilo vigilo or “who watches the watchers?” 

Increasingly, individual members of the public feel the need to participate.  There is an app for that; it is Bambuser.  It streams cell phone video directly to the Web.  In an online article by Becca Caddy, the author describes her interview with Hans Erickson, Bambuser’s CEO.  She asked him what sort of users his company had targeted.  He said,    

One of our founding members, Mans Adler, envisaged Bambuser as a global tool that would aid democracy, allowing anyone and everyone a medium to get their message heard.  During the recent Egyptian and Bahraini protests we saw a surge in broadcasts as demonstrators used Bambuser to stream personal videos from inside Tahrir square, Friday prayers and even funerals.

If ignorance is bliss, it is no doubt reassuring to believe that it simply cannot happen here.  Government oppression crushing civilian dissent happens in Tiananmen Square or Tahrir Square, not in Washington Square.  Guess again.  Freedoms to assemble peaceably and, through free political speech, to criticize the acts of government are the first liberties that totalitarians seize.  

Carlos Miller’s Website Photography is not a Crime chronicles a list of police departments and other government entities whose members believe that the public lacks the legal privilege of scrutinizing and criticizing their activities, especially when those activities might be extra-legal.  The extent to which the police have come to serve the interests of the state, rather than to serve and protect the public is alarming.  Voltaire observed that it is dangerous to be right when government is wrong.

When agents of the state hide what they are doing, they are generally up to no good.  When they arrange matters such that they are above the very law that they are sworn to enforce and are unaccountable to the people, the resulting form of government is totalitarian.  Other Constitutional guaranties that have disappeared under the PA are habeas corpus, or the right to force the state to justify holding citizens involuntary and the requirement that the state must demonstrate probable cause prior to arrest.

There are government surveillance systems in all 50 states, ostensibly to make the streets safer for the public; however, there is no safety if we are not safe from the police.  That someone can be arrested for the egregious crime of standing in her own front yard because an agent of the state claimed arbitrarily, subjectively, and expediently that he was uncomfortable is inexcusable.

An attorney for another woman who was arrested in similar circumstances pointed out to Ray Sanchez of ABC News that videotaping is probably the most effective way to protect citizens against police officers who exaggerate or lie.  Judges and juries want to believe law enforcement, he said.  They want to believe police officers and unless you have credible evidence to contradict police officers, it's often very difficult to get judges or juries to believe the word of a citizen over a police officer.

When police prevaricate under oath to get convictions, the government that they represent is fundamentally corrupt because they cannot do this without the tacit approval of both the judicial and legislative branches of that government.  If Paul Revere rode tonight, his clarion call would be, “The totalitarians are coming.”

May your gods be with you.

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