Opinion: I want to live in a surveillance society

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

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It turns out, however, that the detective was lying through his teeth. We know this because the teenager secretly hit the "record" button on his MP3 player during the interrogation. His lawyer produced the recording in court after the detective committed 12 counts of perjury.

In this case, justice was served for one and only one reason -- a recorder in the control of the suspect was running during the interrogation. And, although I can't prove it, I believe the suspect was "extra honest" about the interrogation, too, for the very same reason. When people know an event or a conversation was or might have been recorded, they tend to be very honest about it later on.

Crespo was able to record the interrogation only because he did so secretly. If he had announced at the beginning of the interview his intention to record, the police could and would have taken it away.

Shouldn't recording your own police interrogation be a constitutionally protected right, like the right to an attorney? If not, why not?

A mobile nanny cam

A few years ago, the parents of a 9-year-old with both Down syndrome and ADHD suspected a school bus driver of abusing their son, so they secretly stashed a tape recorder in the boy's backpack. Sure enough, the recorder captured evidence of abuse.

It was legal for the parents to hide the recorder, but the tape was ruled inadmissible in court because Wisconsin state law prohibits the use of "intercepted conversations." What made the tape an "intercepted conversation" was the fact that the adults doing the recording were not themselves on the bus. The law exists to protect the privacy of those recorded. But is a special-needs bus really a "private space" for the bus driver?

Shouldn't parents be able to secretly record the actions of their children's caregivers if they suspect abuse and to use those recordings in court against the abusers? If not, why not?

There are many situations where I'd like to see surveillance legalized, normalized or even required, including:

  • Interaction with police: When we get pulled over, it should be perfectly legal to openly videotape the entire conversation, as well as when we're questioned or interrogated. They've got a dash cam or interrogation room camera pointed at us. We should have one pointed at them, too. (The knowledge that such cameras are allowed might prevent abuse like this.)
  • Any interaction between caregiver and child: When babies and children or seniors or others who for whatever reason aren't able to defend themselves are potential targets for abuse, it should be legal for their parents or other relatives to secretly tape encounters with caregivers and use those recordings as evidence in court.
  • Anytime politicians meet with lobbyists: Why not use required surveillance to expose or prevent backdoor wheeling and dealing? When our representatives meet with special interest groups, corporate executives or other people out to buy influence, it's not something that's personal or private for the elected politician. There should be special lobbyist meeting rooms with cameras running 24/7. If congressmen and others meet with lobbyists outside the rooms, they go to jail for corruption. This is the people's business, and we have the right to know all about those conversations.
  • Court: It should be our right to record any public hearing or courtroom proceeding. If the public is invited, then banning video cameras and voice recorders is only to reduce the accountability of the judge (rather than, say, to protect the privacy of the accused). Why should judges be granted this protection?
  • Your own phone calls: It's legal to secretly record your own phone calls in 38 states (plus the District of Columbia). But it's illegal in the other 12 states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington. You can record calls only if you get the consent of the other person on the phone. But I think all rights and protections involving your home (such as the right to keep security cameras and other cameras running without announcing the fact to visitors) apply to your home phone as well -- and your cell phone, too, for that matter.
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