Six Minutes to Midnight

September 17, 2007

I wish I’d thought of suggesting this, because in retrospect it seems obvious. The ACLU has started a Surveillance Society Clock, similar to the Doomsday Clock of nuclear war fame. Happily, it starts us off with a whole six minutes to spare, so we don’t have to worry about sanding off our Land of the Free bumper stickers anytime soon. Whew!

From the ACLU’s page:

The reality is we are fast approaching a genuine surveillance society in the United States – a dark future where our every move, our every transaction, our every communication is recorded, compiled, and stored away, ready to be examined and used against us by the authorities whenever they want. The ACLU has created this Surveillance Clock to symbolize just how close we are to a “midnight” of a genuine surveillance society. But it’s not too late – there is still time to save our privacy.

I often hear the argument “if you didn’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.” Well what about if you did something stupid? Or embarrassing? Or something that could be construed into a socially damaging allegation? Yeah, it might not be used against you in a court of law, but the threat of disclosure sure would come in handy as leverage if Big Brother ever wants you to do something you don’t want to. More pointedly, a full surveillance state would enable the government to suppress dissenting political (or even revolutionary) organization efforts. It wouldn’t even require a blatantly unconstitutional use of the police to keep people away from attending the wrong sort of meetings. It could be done with much more subtlety and finesse, allowing those in power to maintain a charade of constitutionality that they could use to justify their rule and paint those who oppose them as being “criminal” and those they suppress as merely experiencing the allegedly-justified consequences of their actions. After all, it’s not the government’s job to protect people from their own bad judgment, though being the caring and benevolent organization that it is, it would be more than happy to let them go with a simple slap on the wrist if they agree to straighten up and fly right.

For example:

“Well Mr. Smith, I’d love to recommend you for that promotion, but we’ve been getting some disturbing reports about your, shall we say, extravocational activities. Now I don’t want to imply that you have done anything…illegal as such, but we have evidence of you attending some rather questionable meetings. I’m sure you have nothing to do with any wrongdoing, but I say, it does seem to signify a lapse of judgment on your part to be seen associating with these people, doesn’t it? Now, Mr. Smith you have done a lot of good work for this firm, and I know you’re a decent man. If you could prove to the higher-ups that you realize your mistake and want no more to do with them, well then I don’t see why this little incident should harm your career at all.”

You see how easy I was able to dream that up? And I’ve never even been in power!

Similarly, those who refuse to be cowed by such tactics could/will be labeled as “trouble-makers” who want to “disturb the peace” and thus deserve whatever social repercussions land on them.

This danger is very real and needs to be addressed. And if Congress won’t do anything about it, we may have to find some way to force them to.


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