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Paranoia Will Destroy Ya: Watching Those Watching Us

Is it just me?

Or do I get the sneaking suspicion I’m being watched?

In my younger days — getting farther and farther away in my review mirror — I never used to be paranoid. How does the old joke go …? Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

For me, paranoia started in early 2002 while living near the U.S.-Canadian border. One day out of nowhere these really high towers appeared, each equipped with a movable camera attached to the top. Being a journalist, I inquired as to their sudden existence and found they were part of a beefed up response to border security issues brought on by the paranoia of the U.S. Government and it’s response to 9-11.

But no one would answer as to who was on the other end of the continuous video feed of the high-powered cameras that had the capability to zoom in to details inside any house or vehicle window within it’s scope. And no one would say if a recording device was or wasn’t hooked up to that feed.

Jump cut to current days and a couple of articles in different publications catch my eye. One was in the North Mason Life in the July 15 edition. “Sheriff’s Office to Install Mobile Terminals.”  Essentially, some outside funds are being used to install mobile data terminals (MDTs) in Mason County prowlers and have the effect of being able to broadcast dispatch calls without going out across public airwaves. On the face of it, this sounds reasonable — why broadcast where you want to be going when any two-bit thief or hoodlum need only plunk down a couple of (stolen) sawbucks to get a state-of-the-art scanner to eavesdrop on police movements? This may be a ludicrous stretch for an anology but serves to make the point: I’m sure another reasonable sounding idea at the time was that of creating a racially pure breed of Aryan during pre-war Germany.

The paranoid side of me questions who will monitor the officers to see if they aren’t abusing this technology to further erode the rights of citizens? Powerful tools such as these  are a great way to fight crime, but they can be every bit as powerful in creating corruption when used by unscrupulous individuals or for nefarious justifications.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Then there is a report in Science Daily about researchers in Oregon and Washington perfecting a new method for determining the extent of illicit drug use in entire communities from the wastewater flushed into a given municipal treatment plant. According to the report, “scientists determined the ‘index load’ of the different drugs — the amount of drug per person per day — based on estimates of the population served by each wastewater facility.”

A report issued in the July 2009 journal Addiction tells of a study completed in 2008 of a statewide mapping of Oregon’s illicit drug use with a one-day testing of 96 municipality wastewater treatment plants representing 65 percent of the state’s population.

So today an entire municipality’s or state’s drug use picture (both legal and illegal) can be determined without the residents’ knowledge or consent. Today’s science breakthroughs routinely leads to tomorrow’s science fiction becoming a reality — often with less than honorable intentions. If science can now successfully test an entire community, how long before a state or federal government agency decides to place a testing device on a individual home’s wastewater flow?

J. Robert Oppenheimer, in helping to harness the power of an atomic reaction, really had no idea how that knowledge and power would be used. Scientists are often one step removed from the political powers that take their research and find new ways to apply it.

Then I read that county officials are busy mounting cameras at intersections with the intent that they can spot “pattern disruptions” and be more effective in triggering a traffic light to change than the older system of underground sensors. Again, on the surface, it sounds fine, but who can say that some government agency or official in the future see a new and more invasive use for the equipment that’s already in place?

You’d think more people would be alarmed about the continuing erosion of their private lives and the ease at which municipal, county, state and federal government agencies can tap that information through usurping of infrastructure already in place.

But then we’re talking about a populace that is ever more comfortable in posting intimate and trivial details about their everyday lives on Internet sites such as Facebook and myspace.

Want a glimpse of what may yet come of a future where we increasingly lose our personal freedoms? Rent the sci-fi thriller “Gattaca.” Then invest in a good high-speed personal DustBuster hand vac.