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July 29, 2012

Panoptiburgh: Deputy Barney Fife, DHS, Protecting the Port of Regent Square

The Panopticon, of course, was Jeremy Bentham's concept of an environment (a prison, in his own application) where a watchman could observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inhabitants without their being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. His thinking was that the uncertainty of surveillance would introduce "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example".

From the Post-Gazette:

This pole at South Braddock Avenue and Hutchinson Street holds an array of high definition and automatic license plate recognition cameras, which snap photos of the license plates of all passing motorists, reads them and enters them into a database so police can search to see if a suspect vehicle has passed.

The cameras record everything that happens, and also recognize vehicle license plates and automatically check them against stolen vehicles and various "watch lists". Police officers can query the database - "When was the last time PA tag XYZ-1234 passed through the intersection of South Braddock and Hutchinson?"

The (federal) Department of Homeland Security has provided the cameras and dataservices from the National Crime Information Center that generate alerts to the police departments in Swissvale and Edgewood.

DHS justified the expense through their Port Security Grant Program, upon the request of the Allegheny County District Attorney.

And so the Panopticon has arrived in Pittsburgh, because the District Attorney wants it, because the Feds are willing to pay for it, under the pretense of "port security" in land-locked Regent Square. This is the priority in a city where streets flood when it rains.

The given justification, by the way, is not that these cameras will reduce or prevent crime; the hope is that they will help in investigations.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. (Benjamin Franklin, Feb. 1775)

Back to Contemporary Syllogism 101:
     Information is Power
     Power Corrupts
     Who thinks this is a good idea?
  • The Pittsburgh FOP seized the hard drive of a coffee shop because somebody used the WiFi to post a joke that embarrassed the FOP
  • The Pittsburgh FOP maintains a database tracking judges they disapprove of
  • And now we're going to give them Total Information Awareness?
People with short-term memory will remember the Texas legislature abusing the FAA computers to track state senators. Does anybody doubt that the FOP has a conflicted interest in knowing when Jordan Miles is driving around in the wee hours?

The introduction of federal monitoring of non-suspect civilian traffic is an indication of our current police state and the rampant federalization of all local law enforcement.


Our only hope in this area's implementation is that the inevitable abuses will be so ham-fisted, so blatantly obvious, that they will serve as a wake-up call to people who remember that we used to smugly criticize the types of authoritarian regimes that we seem to be becoming.

Two closing points:
  • bicycles seem better and better
  • Jeremy Bentham saw the Panopticon as a way to reduce police staffing

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

just wait until the Cheney-ites get back in power..........

Anonymous said...

Ed Meese would be so proud.........

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