No Safe Harbor: No Safe Quarter

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“If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.”

The above is a common phrase repeated often by the uninformed in regards to our growing surveillance society. Not only is it an uninformed opinion; it is irresponsible and unconscionable for those who call themselves Americans. Those people, as I’ve dubbed those who say such things, are effectively spitting upon the Constitution, namely the Fourth Amendment.

Our society has disintegrated, becoming a place where everyone is considered a potential threat until proven innocent. But what is the definition of innocent? Innocent of what crime? Simply behaving “suspiciously” is now enough to be reported. For example, the Department of Homeland Security has launched the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. If you see what? The videos give examples of people leaving bags in public places. What about those of us who forget our items? I’ve lost my purse, but I’d rather someone try to return it to me instead of calling the authorities!

One has to also wonder if holding political opinions is wrong. I always considered holding informed opinions as being responsible. However, in Pennsylvania, this was not considered as such. In fact, in the fall of 2010, watch lists were made of various groups – Tea Parties, anti-gas drillers, anti-puppy mill groups, etc. From this I gathered that being informed and having an opinion was considered threatening by the government, warranting attention from authorities!

For a long time after this, I was afraid to speak out and let my opinion be known, something I’d always enjoyed until then. Following the watch list incident, I’d have nightmares of DHS personnel hiding in the shrubbery, tapping my phones, listening to my conversations about underwear shopping or family problems. Sometimes I still do. When the lists were discovered, it was fear like I’d never known before. I felt betrayed, like all I’d believed about America was a lie, like some child finding out Santa Claus wasn’t real. But this was worse. Knowing there’s no fat man dressed in red to bring presents doesn’t cause any sort of raw terror. Finding out the document I thought protected my rights was about as real as Narnia was quite another story.

Afterward, I spoke with many senior citizens who attended political events. (My old city had a large elderly population.) These folks in their walkers or toting canes were just as afraid as I, wondering if they would be barred from boarding a plane, wondering if there would be any repercussions to the lists.

Fear is, perhaps, one of the most powerful weapons to use against people. I still have bad dreams about those lists. And I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. I suppose since 9/11 that the definition of “wrong” has changed.

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.”

This is another rephrasing of the first quote, yet a little more insidious, a little farther reaching, if you will. Doing wrong and having nothing to hide can be two completely different things. This phrase suggests that you should be an open book. It also makes me think of that quote from Eric Schmidt of Google notoriety: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”[1]

How about going to rehab, marriage counseling, cancer treatment, purchasing scandalous lingerie, or treating an embarrassing health problem? It seems as if, according to Schmidt and those people, we all ought to ignore our personal problems, pretend they don’t exist, wear “granny panties,” and just let whatever that nasty little problem is continue untreated.

And, I for one, do have things to hide! Like my titties and hoo-hoo when I go to the airport. If I were a stripper, I’d have a lot more money. But, I certainly don’t relish the thought of stripping for strangers for free. Oh, wait, actually, considering I buy the plane tickets, I’m paying! What kind of raw, pervy deal is that?

Going on vacation should not cause anxiety; it should be a fun, lighthearted time. Yet, waiting in the queue to be screened by those clunking around in jackboots tends to cause a large amount of anxiety. If you’ve ever been the victim of sexual harassment, the situation can be very bad, indeed. And then, of course, there’s the thought that maybe I might have ended up on a list because someone in power didn’t like a letter to the editor, a USPP newsletter, a speech I gave at a rally, or this essay. Now, I haven’t done anything wrong, other than state my beliefs, a practice allegedly protected by the First Amendment.

It seems that people back in Pennsylvania forgot about that list. No one brings it up anymore. The head of the department stepped down after that fiasco and that seemed to satisfy the masses. Yet how can the people there feel they are safe to continue as they would? The Patriot Act is still in effect, the reason for the list in the first place.

It has frustrated me that no one seems to realize all the other issues don’t matter if your voice is taken away. How can you speak if you’ll be punished, watched like a criminal? If we allow our voice to be outlawed, we will have no say in anything.

To make it worse, the TSA is now moving to the streets in Tennessee. They set up checkpoints along roads! How long until this comes to other states? How long until we start getting questioned about personal effects in our vehicles and are forced to “show our papers?” How long until the biggest stressor while driving is no longer the harried person cutting off other motorists?

Perhaps one of the most disturbing items I’ve read about lately is IntelliStreets. These are streetlights that have the capability to take pictures, give security alerts, reprimand people for littering or jaywalking, and broadcast ads and security alerts. Yet, there’s one other capability these devices have – the ability to record conversations!

Ron Harwood, the inventor of Intellistreets, claims, “This is not a system with spook technology.”[2] Really? Then what is the purpose of street lights being able to record a conversation? Obviously there’s a reason he decided to include that capability in his design, and I’m doubting it’s because he’s a voyeur.

How many freedoms have we lost? We’re treated like criminals, have to fear expressing ourselves, must wonder if our phone conversations are being recorded…and the list goes on. However, far more than anything else, our own government and the corporations that benefit by creating this spook technology, to use Harwood’s term, are what frighten me the most. Who is going to protect us from them?