The only thing more disturbing than our frog-in-a-pot progress toward a total surveillance society is the gleeful cheerleading of same in this New York Post article. So: the MTA has installed high-visibility security cameras in four E-train cars as a trial to see if they’ll do it system-wide—the advantage of these cameras, points out MTA President Thomas Prendergast, is their alleged deterrence of crime and terrorism.
Of course, this kind of trade-off—a little bit of security for a little bit of privacy—is in an ongoing reality in any Western democracy, and requires of citizens a high level of engagement with the line between civic safety and individual liberty. Now, one would think that the undue intrusion of government into American lives would be something the left (e.g. the ACLU) and right (e.g. small-government conservatives) could agree on… right? Yeah, totally. Which is why I get a little confused when a putative organ of conservatism happily trots out an (exclusive!) story like this with a warm and fuzzy feel-good angle. To wit:
If a straphanger is assaulted—heaven forbid—he or she can report the incident to the NYPD and police can then use the video feed in the investigation.
Yay! And srsly, heaven forbid such a thing happen, transit reporter Tom Namako!
Straphangers welcomed the watchful eye, saying criminals were less likely to strike if they know they’re being recorded. “It’ll protect people. It’ll bring down a lot of unwanted activities on the train,” said Donald Terrell, 48, from Harlem. “A lot of people in New York see something but they don’t say anything,” he added.
Yes, two straphangers felt good about the cameras. Two. And they were both quoted in this article!
I’m not trying to be willfully naive here, because I know a Murdoch-owned newspaper will never have a monolithic world-view fully aligned with its allies in the political classes, but this story could have so easily been a populist barn-burner about “Big Brother” and how he can watch you underground now, and how the Obama Administration is setting the groundwork for a national culture of government intrusion… Frankly, in this case, I would’ve welcomed that kind of story. I continue to be alarmed at how easily this stuff just happens, how the government seems able to survey and record at will… AND I’M AN UNRECONSTRUCTED LEFTY.
So please, if there are any small-government conservatives reading this (hi!), please let me know you share my anxiety over the decade-long erosion of individual privacy in favor of community security. Because I will stand beside you—weird libertarian though you may be—and read aloud from 1984.