Friday, October 16, 2009

Surveillance in Sylva

I heard some interesting news on the radio this morning. The Sylva Police Chief is eager to install Diebold high-definition surveillance cameras on Main Street.

What intrigues me is how this is liable to proceed without much wrangling. Any concerns will likely focus on costs, instead of privacy issues.

Call it a sign of changing times.

A few years ago, say, back in 1984 (just to pick a year at random) surveillance cameras on Main Street might have been perceived as invading the privacy of freedom-loving people.

Not any more.

Recently, Western Carolina University blanketed the campus with surveillance cameras. Students interviewed for a television newscast about it were happy as clams.

Right now, I’m hearing those inevitable words of reassurance from a disembodied voice in the room, “Unless you have something to hide, what are you worried about?”

All I’m trying to say is that I find the cultural shift fascinating. Shift happens. We’ve entered an era when opposable thumbs are vital to interpersonal communication.

Personal identity, it seems, is less and less something inherent in the individual, and more and more derived from one’s highly visible place within a social pecking order. I wonder what Marshall “Medium is the Message” McLuhan would make of MySpace, the social networking medium remarkably devoid of anything I recognize as “content.”

I know, I know. All this speculation is pointless and irrelevant in the year 1984+25, nothing more than the ravings of a dinosaur.


What does it say about us that Diebold high-def surveillance cameras will go up on Main Street…

…without so much as a whimper of protest?


For more on privacy, check out the American Civil Liberties Union –


Anonymous said...

Every once in awhile I find myself having something in common with the Libertarian right, especially Bob Barr, the former Congressman from Georgia.
He was one of the first and most vocal critic of the Patriot Act and the idea that security trumped the fundamental right of privacy.
I saw an article the other day that said the French were becoming more like the English and us in devolving a prurient interest in the sex lives of their politicians. For the most part French culture is kind of laissez faire in its attitude towards what a public figure does in his or her private life. Now though they too are becoming enamored with the details of their politician's pecadillos.
I suppose there's some value in knowing for a fact that John Ensign and Mark Sanford are in fact horrid hypocrites but I wonder, in the end what does all the oversight get us?
Bernie Madoff still found plenty of fools to sign onto his schemes and local developers found plenty of folks to ante up outrageous sums in questionable real estate ventures. Both took place in spite of plenty of information that would have allowed one to make a better choice.
I think the cameras and the wiretaps and all the trappings of a secure society somehow give us an illusion of security. Some folks are willing to sell their souls for that illusion; hell we went to Iraq on just that illusion and Dick Cheney still has far too large and audience willing to sacrifice freedom for security.

Ben Franklin said something about the idea that those who would trade freedom for security will have neither.

Well maybe when the camera go up I'll be the first to get caught on tape in the act of public urination. In the world of YouTube maybe the cameras are only an invitation.

Anonymous said...

The Sylva Herald already has a camera on Main Street on the rooftop. Check out the Sylva Herald blog and you can see what is going on at several Jackson County locales, including WCU.

GULAHIYI said...

Yes, I was thinking about the Herald cam...but was in a hurry to post this story before going out of town. So why don't the cops just log on to the Herald site and save the taxpayers some money?

Oh, I know, when the terrorists strike Main Street we want to see the instant replays in HIGH DEFINITION!

GULAHIYI said...

Ignatz, I should probably re-read 1984 before going far on this track, but as I recall intrusivenss was something imposed on the populace. What might make our current reality - our current variation on 1984 - more frightening (and more complex) is that the populace has brought the intrusivenss on itself.

I suspect that the vast majority of younger people cannot even fathom why a surveillance camera on Main Street would be objectionable at all. A few more cameras? What's the big deal? I encourage anyone to start counting the cameras lined up along the front of our local Walmart. And those people who set off the "bomb" in the sporting goods department were on camera, and we caught them...or, ummm, I guess they're still on the loose!

I think we're about to the point where a "prudent" lawyer would advise the town that it would be negligent NOT to install surveillance cams.

Anonymous said...

I was listening to an author on NPR last week discuss his book about how the joys of childhood, especially the joys of lone adventure have been stolen by our repressive need for safety and security.
When I was kid I left the house in the morning with the only restriction being an appearance at mealtimes. I wandered the woods without kneepads or helmets or structured play. The year I lived with my granny in the big city really wasn't much different. I went to the ballfield or took the trolley into the center of the city.
I got to explore and use my imagination.
Today we fear all manner of bad consequences and I suppose there are good reasons for that although I'm not sure there are any more molesters or bad people now than there were then.
From our earliest moments we are taught that structure and order will eliminate bad consequences. So now we believe we are somehow entitled to evermore perfect outcomes. This idea pervades our society and takes many forms in both conservative and liberal ideologies.
The imposition of Big Brother may have been imposed but the idea that we should accept that started with an acceptance of the tradeoff of freedom for the security of perfect outcomes.
Gulahiyi, you're probably right that today's youth will accept the intrusion without question or qualm. I was talking to a teacher from our high school today and she said that the latest fad was young women who use their camera phones to take pictures of their own naughty bits and then sell views to the boys.
Now, I'm no prude, in my younger days I tried like many of my cohorts to sneak a peak in the girls' locker room. This strikes me as the normal curiosity of youth. But this newest thing seems miles, not degrees beyond that.
I wonder, is the resistance to health care reform by some merely the acknowledgement that the rest of the world is populated not by fellow human beings but merely actors in our own personal movies? If I am so self-referential as to think this way then why should I care about the quality of someone else's life? Perhaps some see the cameras not as an intrusion but as a means of catching their performance. I suppose that in the insulated world of self-indulgence it's hard to understand the implications of constant and pervasive observation.

Jeff Fobes said...

The sheriff of Nottingham, er, Sylva may have ideas, but consider the NC 911 Board, which has secured the funds to overfly the entire state to map basically every 6-inches using orthophotography this winter.

The foresters are happy, as will be some conservation agencies.

Here's the story:

GULAHIYI said...

Thanks, Jeff. Actually, I had already read your post on that somewhat related project, and the wheels are already turning. I can't provide much more than the "whimper" in the "whimper of protest" over the safety enhancements to Sylva's Main Street, but I just might have something special awaiting the 911'ers when invade the sanctity of my back 40.

Details to follow.

Gary Carden said...

What Orwell did not forsee or anticipate was our obsession with being noticed. As the news indicates each night, some of us will go to amazing extremes to be seen. I've already read about the teenagers who have cameras mounted in their bedrooms so that they can pose, preen and provoke viewers. Apparently, we are raising a new generation that sees monitors and security cameras as an opportunity to be seen. Looks like we are willling to cooperate in our own enslavement.

Anonymous said...

Cameras in public places is always a good idea. Its been proven elsewhere in america and Bryson City recently lept into this with great results. I can't think of any con's to cameras recording things going on in public places. They obviously aren't watching all the footage but using the footage tied to crimes. You are on camera just about every other public place in Sylva and nothing bad happens to you then so whats the big deal about putting cameras on the streets so we can help locate and identify crimes?

GULAHIYI said...

I don't think I can add much beyond what Gary and Ignatz have already said. It doesn't surprise me that many people are willing to submit to an intrusive police state. I would be curious to hear about the great results in Bryson City. The best security video I've seen from BC lately was the inmate easing his way out of Sing-Sing. I guess you could call that a great result.