We're the hunted

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Welcome to the surveillance society.

That was the unifying theme of both the national and local news last week as Americans learned of the far-reaching abilities the government has to infiltrate, record and monitor our lives.

The upshot of all this? We’re no longer free. Even in our own homes.

Last week’s tweet by President Trump, that he was wiretapped during the campaign by Obama’s spies at the CIA, was met by media and liberals as impossible drivel. Obama wouldn’t do that, the media reported en masse, and then turned their back on a huge story average Americans like me want followed up.

Not two days later came WikiLeaks’ trove of CIA documents detailing how the foreign spy agency uses electronic devices such as smart TVs, cell phones and other internet-enabled devices to monitor Americans. The data dump certainly made Trump’s accusation seem plausible.

Then, at the end of the week, we learned that Portland City Hall has installed cameras that record video, as well as audio, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Who exactly is listening to you talk at Portland City Hall? That’s a chilling thought, eh?

Those who watched “Hunted,” a startling CBS program that aired during the last two months, got a good look at the surveillance state in action. The show pitted surveillance experts against teams of two “fugitives” who had to elude their “hunters” for a specified amount of time to earn victory. The show was illuminating as to the myriad ways police use to track people. Hint: If you ever find yourself at odds with police, don’t use a cell phone of any kind, don’t travel on any roads and don’t visit ATMs or stores since they’re all filled with cameras.

With so much surveillance performed under the guise of security, my question is this: How long are Americans going to tolerate living in a society where government stalks their every move?

Most people want to believe these tracking measures are meant to catch bad guys, but they create a sense of fear and intimidation, even paranoia, in law-abiding citizens. They make us fear our police, our FBI, our CIA, our NSA. They create an Us vs. Them mentality. They create striations within the society where the governed are intimidated by, not protected by, the governors.

I don’t buy the argument these revelations are detrimental for crime fighters. They’re enlightening, and we needn’t fear the light. The people need to know what their government is doing because its actions impact all of us. How the government treats others, be they detainees at Guantanamo or in Abu Ghraib prison, will come back to haunt all of us if done incorrectly.

Edward Snowden was key in enlightening Americans about the modern surveillance society. He’s an enemy of the government now, but he’s a friend to the American people. Same with Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks. He’s as brave as Snowden, and his mission in life seems to be making people aware of government actions. These whistleblowing watchdogs have taken the place of the media, which used to inform us of government’s waywardness, but have relinquished that role because they believe an all-powerful state can be better trusted than a nation of truly free individuals charting their own courses.

The desire to believe surveillance can be used for good runs deep. Even skeptical Americans want to believe their government is trustworthy. We want to believe FBI Director James Comey when he says that Americans can “have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes, in our cars, in our devices” and that the government is only targeting the evil-doers. But history proves that government overreach starts out small and snowballs.

But even if you believe policing agencies always act in the citizens’ best interests, they aren’t the only worry. Their data could be hacked by other governments and individuals, and private individuals can be targeted. Imagine the damage that would result if a recording of a political candidate saying or doing something inappropriate were released prior to an election? Oh wait, that’s already happened. No need to imagine.

America is the land of the free. Walking down a camera-lined street in a major city, driving past cameras on highway underpasses or looking up to see a camera in the local town hall are elements of a police surveillance state. And those are just capturing images of our bodies. Government recording of our words and thoughts, as we share them via a smartphone or computer, is much more intrusive.

It’s time we call this what it is: an invasion of privacy and an assault on personal liberty that must stop. Let’s get out in the streets – camera-lined as they are – and march against that.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.