Next, from Bruce Schneier comes this excellent essay on what he terms is The War on the Unexpected. Basically, playing on the fears of people to report anything different and the effect that has on our culture, our security, and our political system.
The Stockbridge shopkeeper would say that shouldn't matter. But it does matter because, even beyond the compelling civil liberties arguments, the explosion of CCTV fundamentally alters a population's relationship with its public spaces. Those who are most aware of being watched respond in ways that only render them more vulnerable to sanction: teenagers hoist up their hoodies, demonstrators cover their faces on marches. Much more insidious is the way that our misplaced confidence in an omnipresent witnessing eye apparently makes us feel absolved of any responsibility to intervene ourselves.
Britain has become a witness culture, inured to watching and being watched. Be it Big Brother or posting friends' antics on YouTube, our leisure time has become increasingly infected with the imperative to expose ourselves and others. No activity, no individual, is deemed valid without an audience.
So maybe acquiescence to a constant mechanical witness should not come as such a surprise. But it bears repeating that that winking eye in the corner is singularly failing to keep us safe. And it has corrupted our sense of public and private to the extent that, every evening, we can go home to help ourselves to a piece of a stranger's life while, on the street, we feel no compunction to help at all.
For some reason, governments are encouraging this kind of behavior. It's not just the publicity campaigns asking people to come forward and snitch on their neighbors; they're asking certain professions to pay particular attention: truckers to watch the highways, students to watch campuses, and scuba instructors to watch their students. The U.S. wanted meter readers and telephone repairmen to snoop around houses. There's even a new law protecting people who turn in their travel mates based on some undefined "objectively reasonable suspicion," whatever that is.
If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn't be surprised when you get amateur security.
We need to do two things. The first is to stop urging people to report their fears. People have always come forward to tell the police when they see something genuinely suspicious, and should continue to do so. But encouraging people to raise an alarm every time they're spooked only squanders our security resources and makes no one safer.
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