I had the pleasure of attending a Boxing Day dinner last Monday with some British friends, and had an animated discussion with one Brit about the fact that in the UK, practically of your moves are being recorded on cameras. This started with the discussion of the fact that recently, the UK government has started to catalog and track every vehicles whereabouts by camera.

He told me a story that years ago, a number of people in his town started to go out late dressed in costume and do odd capers in front of the cameras in the early hours of the morning. They were careful to do nothing illegal, but it caught the attention of the local press. It was worthy of a chuckle.

This morning, I caught a Wired story on Ted Richardson’s blog about a group of activists in Austria performing various acts of civil disobedience in front of cameras

From the Wired story:

When the Austrian government passed a law this year allowing police to install closed-circuit surveillance cameras in public spaces without a court order, the Austrian civil liberties group Quintessenz vowed to watch the watchers.

Members of the organization worked out a way to intercept the camera images with an inexpensive, 1-GHz satellite receiver. The signal could then be descrambled using hardware designed to enhance copy-protected video as it’s transferred from DVD to VHS tape.

The Quintessenz activists then began figuring out how to blind the cameras with balloons, lasers and infrared devices.

And, just for fun, the group created an anonymous surveillance system that uses face-recognition software to place a black stripe over the eyes of people whose images are recorded.

Link here via Ted Richardson.

It is something that I’ve said before and something I will continue to repeat: The fear of real or perceived threats has historically been the justification for the biggest assaults on civil liberties.

Do we really want to live in a “safe” society that has cameras on every corner? Do we want our every move watched? Is that an exchange for perceived “protection” that we’re really willing to make? Are we so afraid that we have to destroy our own civil liberties?

Furthermore, who is doing the watching? It’s one thing to have a casino watch your every move, or for airport security officers to keep a watch for terrorists, but it’s another to have some anonymous civil servant observe you on every street corner.

Governments always want more control and more oversight. It’s the nature of government. But that doesn’t mean it’s right.

Alex Eckelberry