He may have been premature by almost 30 years with his ominous peak into the future, in the form of the iconic novel, “1984,” which introduced the phrase “Big Brother” into our language – as in Big Brother (the government) is watching you – for convenient use by anyone feeling slightly paranoid or simply that the government is overstepping its bounds and trampling on the citizenry’s privacy. But who could argue that today, in 2013, “1984” has come to fruition and Big Brother is indeed watching us...maybe not every single one of us every single second of every single day, but Big Brother usually has a general idea of where we are and what we’re doing.
But is this a bad thing? Well, that likely depends on the potential for good to come of all this surveillance, all this “data mining” and all this tracking. Law enforcement is a frequent portrayer of the Big Brother role, under the guise of protecting the good, law-abiding people from the not-so-good malcontents that we’re supposed to believe will somehow do us harm or otherwise wrong us if given the chance.
Is it good that our legislators in St. Paul recently defeated a bill that would have put police surveillance cameras at intersections to collect the license plate information from motorists who break traffic laws? Maybe it depends on how often you obey the rules of the road. Is it good that in North Dakota last year, a farm family known for their aggressive, intimidating and law-breaking behavior was monitored by an unmanned drone flying in the sky, and information provided by that drone led to law enforcement converging on them and taking them into custody? If that family lived by you and had messed with your family, you were probably relieved. If that’s not the case, you might be just a little concerned about what this drone craze is going to lead to when it comes to law enforcement saying they’re using a valuable new tool to keep the public safe, but you don’t feel like being spied on as a law-abiding citizen living in a so-called free country.
As you’re reading this, a tragic, murderous story continues to be told almost daily out of the Twin Cities, where all signs point to Kira Trevino being killed a few weeks ago by her husband, Jeffery, in a real bloodbath. She was reported missing when she didn’t show up for work at a Mall of America apparel store, and her husband was soon arrested, after a search of the couple’s home and her vehicle, found tucked deep into a secluded corner of a Mall of America parking lot, turned up blood, lots of blood…enough for police to conclude Kira, whose body still hasn’t been found, is most certainly dead.
Page 2 of 2 - Search warrants…a common tool used by law enforcement. But what we’ve learned in the Trevino murder case is that cameras are on us just about everywhere we go. Kira’s husband is captured on surveillance camera getting gas in his wife’s car on the night police think she was killed. He’s seen on multiple Mall of America cameras – where the mall manager says cameras are constantly trained on everyone, everywhere – parking Kira’s car and throwing a bloody trunk liner into the trash.
So surveillance cameras helped catch the guy…can’t argue with that, right? Well, what about the constant, hour after hour, day after day, month after month and year after year of footage that is simply catalogued, of people who are getting gas, or shopping at the mall? When I see a sign at the gas pump telling me to smile because I’m on camera, I’m half attempted to commit a crime – just a tiny misdemeanor, mind you – just to see if the cops show up at my door minutes after I get home. I’ve always lost my nerve when teased with that temptation, but I may have discreetly flipped a bird in the general direction of the omnipotent, omniscient eye in the eye once or twice, just to reiterate to Big Brother my existence as a half-decent human being living in a free democracy.
Unless we disengage the feature on our smart phones, our precise location at all times is known and easily accessible. If we shop and buy things online, we have to read around a million words of fine print to find out just how much every single thing we click on is “data mined” so online retailers can learn more about our habits and preferences and, of course, share that data with others.
I’ve spent a ton of money at Amazon.com over the years on books, music and all kind of other merchandise. I’d think that after slightly more than 40 years of walking this earth, I know what I like and don’t like. But each time I login, there it is, a long list of things that Amazon.com “recommends” for me.
Indeed, Orwell would probably turn over in his grave if he saw what of his “1984” ominous vision had actually come to pass. If he’s ever seen the god-awful pseudo-reality show “Big Brother,” he’s probably getting dizzy from continuously rolling over, like a dripping roast twisting on a rotisserie.