Essay Non-Fiction posted April 23, 2015

This work has reached the exceptional level
Terrorism has stolen my rights

Lost Privacy--The Cost of Security

by Spiritual Echo

After 9/11, global shock pervaded, and no one I spoke with at the time had any doubts that new security measures were necessary. We adapted, and supported new safety measures, but as I stand back now, and look at what has transpired since that historic event, I realize that we have both willingly, and unwillingly, lost many of our civil rights.

I was irritated by the new airport rules. I grumbled, but complied, especially when someone walked into a plane with liquid explosives, and another person was discovered with a device in the heel of his shoe. The idea that I could be seen naked when I was obliged to walk through an X-ray machine made me bristle, but again, I accepted that the procedure ensured the safety of all passengers.

When travelling in the US during the post 9/11 years, I was astonished at the wide-spread fear, high-lighted by one memorable trip to Texas. All the duct tape had sold out from stores in the entire state, in response to a threat that North Korea had missiles trained on America. Citizens thought they could use duct tape to keep radiation out of their homes by sealing every crack and crevice around windows and doors. As little as I knew about missiles, I questioned the colleagues I was meeting with about the logic of a bomb being dropped on Dallas.

"The military would take out the aircraft before it hit the mainland," I said.

Someone else was afraid that a warship was heading towards the States with a nuclear weapon aboard. Another choked as she told me, tears streaming down her face, that her child was afraid to go to school, and this was long before the shootings by crazed individuals.

I tried to comfort these people, in my mind wondering how paranoia could turn into mass hysteria. Although I never diminished the power of radical individuals who could cause immense destruction, I was still deeply concerned by the paralysing fear of the Americans I met with during my meetings.

In part, I put it down to the new agency and high-profile presence of Homeland Security. The reports, the 'code orange' alerts that were announced on radio and television stations' daily news broadcasts, didn't allow anyone to relax and try to live with some normalcy.

I remember sitting in the Dallas airport, watching soldiers toting sub-machine guns, eyes in constant movement as they scanned the crowd. I wondered if maybe my American friends were not paranoid. Maybe I was naive, and they had it right, but I was damned happy to be going home.

When earlier this year a soldier was gunned down in Ottawa, Canada's capitol, by a maniac who was identified as a terrorist, I received many notes from American friends who expressed deep concern that terrorism had come to our shores. While grateful for the kind thoughts, my initial reaction was that this cold-hearted murder was committed by a lunatic. I was partially right.

The mentally ill assassin acted alone, but he had been radicalized; bent to serve Isis, influenced by a web site, no less. He had never been to Syria, and a thorough investigation into the mosque he attended, showed absolutely no domestic connection with terrorist groups. But of course, as a result of his actions, security on Parliament Hill was forever changed.

Terrorism, whether it is individual or Isis generated, is here to stay. It is part of our new identity to be on guard and suspicious. In hostage situations, one of the first missions of the SWAT team is to try to understand the suspect's motivation. What does he want? The world is being held hostage, but I'll be damned if I know what the terrorists want. There seems to be no end goal beyond killing and destruction.

The catastrophic results of a few mad men changed us all, but today I listened to a radio talk-show discussing drones. Security and privacy have become complicated conversations. In the name of security, the invasion of privacy for each of us has been augmented by enormous leaps in technology.

In just a few decades, GPS has become a standard component in all vehicles being built. That technology aroused great debates; people arguing that a chip should be implanted in our children, so that like our cars, we would never lose track of our precious assets. I know of no parent who opted for a surgical procedure, but I am aware that some children have these tracking devices sewn into their backpacks. Today, anyone who has a cell phone; (Is there anyone who does not?) can be located because of GPS.

Over the last few years, we have or know someone who has, been hacked. Yet, beyond common criminals, identity thieves, we also need to be concerned about our governments. They make no bones about their right to monitor E-mails, phone calls and Internet activity. I listen to the argument; 'if you have nothing to hide, what difference does it make?' I have nothing to hide, but it creeps me out.

All the reassurance that this is necessary to locate those people, who are being seduced by terrorist web-sites, radicalized by computer images and videos, does not soothe me, but frightens me to the core.

When I turn on the computer, the ads that pop up are not generic, definitely not showing up on every screen in North America, but custom-tailored to reflect my interests, gathered by Google based on my Internet history, and sold to subscribers who target me as a potential customer.

If governments begin to harvest our information, my fear is that George Orwell's only error in depicting 'Big Brother' in his novel, '1984,' was reduced to a miscalculation of the year.

I watch the television show, 'Person of Interest,' with a macabre sense, that like Orwell's novel, this is not sci-fi, but rather a prophetic glimpse at where our world is heading. Artificial Intelligence, once a fantasy, seems close, and I can't help but feel that Samaritan, the 'machine' in this TV program, is already watching and gathering data as a precursor to deciding who and what I am.

The radio discussion about drones that I listened to today, centred on privacy issues. The host was interviewing a gentleman who used this technology in business, taking aerial photographs for companies and individuals who wanted an unusual perspective to their weddings. Referred to as Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles, or UAVs, the drones he uses are state-of-the-art, equipped with cameras and video capacity that live-streams to a ground screen, giving the UAV user immediate and real-time transmissions.

While the host was concentrating on vertical intrusion, spying on people in high-rise apartment buildings and skyscrapers, what struck me was how easy it has become to steal images of people.

What followed was a discussion on the legality of filming strangers, without their permission, when they are out in public. I had to admit to myself, that while I could work up a snit about intersection, red-light radar, I had completely accepted the use of video surveillance. What I heard for the first time today, was a technology employed by retailers for other benefits. 'Superception' is currently used by several national retailers, a process whereby mannequins have video cameras installed in their eyes. Some merchants use the hidden cameras to monitor shoplifting, but most purport the mannequins help boost retail sales by measuring the customers' time and activities in the store, while at the same time, employing face-recognition, storing and utilizing the data for a more intimate shopping experience. Really? Then why does that information make me want to avoid the store?

The drone expert seemed an honourable businessman, but as he explained that drones sold in Wal-Mart and hobby stores were readily available, some even coming with video cameras, the sophisticated UAVs he used were worth thousands of dollars. I doubted the price tag would be a deterrent to those with criminal intent.

He outlined how he notified air-traffic control where he was operating his drones, but it seemed unlikely that hobbyists, or for that matter criminals and terrorists, would report where their surveillance equipment or armed UAVs were hovering below radar.

When the radio discussion turned to permits, I laughed out loud. Like gun control, it seems like a typical 'Canadian thing' to try to legislate potentially lethal situations by asking owners to apply for a piece of paper--a cash grab. Canada does have a registry for all gun owners, but I seriously doubt the weapon used to rob a liquor store is registered anywhere.

With the popularity of this new toy, it will be impossible to control or police drones, or anticipate when someone will use the device to sidestep any security measures. Two security breaches, one a manned ultra-lite aircraft, landed on the White House lawn. These incidents are enough evidence for me to prove that not everything can be anticipated. The response is far more important than trying to predetermine every risk--certainly not at the cost of civil liberty.

There's no turning back from the technical and electronic progress that has occurred, but surely there is a better way to search for threats without becoming Big Brother.

I came to the conclusion that it may be possible to prevent some disasters by calculating risk factors, but there is something wrong with spying on an entire population to catch a few criminals.

Is it really so wrong to expect our leaders to find better use for their man-power than to squander the effort and resources, and force law-abiding citizens to cower behind closed curtains?

Believing in the general goodness of people is no longer an option, and I can completely understand that nations must stay vigilant against domestic threats. But that's government's job. If the only way they have to carry this burden is by treating me like a potential criminal, then the cost is my mistrust of my country's leadership. I have been robbed of my peace of mind.


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