Opinion: I want to live in a surveillance society

Big Brother is always watching you. But who's watching Big Brother?

In my first year as a reporter for a local newspaper back in the year (mumble, mumble), I sat down to interview three candidates for city council who were running as a "slate." I pulled out my tape recorder, and one of them said, "I'm sorry, but we're not willing to do the interview if you're going to record it." When I asked why, he said, "Because we don't want to be misquoted."

The candidates didn't trust me because the editorial page of the newspaper I worked for had endorsed their opponents. But the encounter always bothered me. How can a verbatim record of a conversation increase the chance of being misquoted?

At the time, I hesitated for a moment and considered walking away from the interview. But I changed my mind and put the tape recorder away. In hindsight, I should have said, "Look, I can't take notes as fast as my tape recorder can. Why don't you go grab a tape recorder, too. We'll both tape it. If I misquote you, you can prove it."

The problem they had -- and one problem with surveillance in general -- is that it upsets the balance of power. Whoever has the tape has the power to use, not use, selectively use or misuse the information or proof or evidence recorded.

The opposite of privacy

Privacy advocates warn of a wide range of new assaults on our freedoms facilitated by new technologies. Among these, the growing ubiquity of surveillance cameras -- especially in the U.K. and the U.S., which now have "endemic surveillance," according to a new report. Our freedoms are threatened because technology dramatically improves the efficiency with which they can monitor us, yet we often have no counterbalancing way to monitor them.

Privacy advocates fight hard to oppose secret phone taps, surveillance cameras and other intrusions based on the idea that some things are private and Big Brother has no business always watching you.

I support those who fight for our right to privacy. But I think they're fighting only half the battle. In addition to the right to keep private what should be private, we also need to fight for our right to make public what should be public.

Reverse police surveillance

A teen murder suspect named Erik Crespo complained during his recent trial that he was inappropriately interrogated by New York City Police Detective Christopher Perino. The teen claimed that during the interrogation, the detective told him that he wouldn't be allowed to see a judge unless he signed a confession. He also claimed that the detective tried to talk him out of speaking with a lawyer.

But the detective claimed -- under oath -- that he never even interrogated Crespo.

Conflicts like this happen in court all the time. People lie to spin events in their favor. Sometimes the best liar wins. Sometimes the most credible source wins. An experienced police detective, for example, might be considered by a jury as more credible than some 17-year-old kid.

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