1. Archive

Smile, say cheese as your privacy slips away

I am not paranoid, as the old saying goes. It's just a story my enemies are spreading about me.

I have only the tiniest problem with cameras being in Ybor City to provide security. I have a slightly larger problem with the use of software that compares the faces of visitors to the tourist area with mug shots in a crime database.

Call it "facial profiling," if you will. I'm not comfortable with the possibility that I could wind up detained and talking to cops because a machine thinks I look like a criminal it knows.

I know, I know, it is only an extension of the rights of cops to do the same thing based on firsthand observation, but the omnipresence of surveillance today gives me the willies.

Automated machinery already photographs me when I use an ATM, pick up laundry, buy beer or lottery tickets, pass toll booths, get on airplanes and when I work in at least one of the offices I frequent.

Passports used to be exactly that, a way of being allowed to pass the port when you came home. Now a bar code on them tells the government who I am and where I am going and how long I am there.

I need my Social Security number to get a prescription filled through my insurance company and part of it to check on my bank balance by phone.

My bank requires thumbprints from non-account holders to cash checks. Pharmacies in Virginia are going to start fingerprinting customers who, with legal prescriptions, come to buy OxyContin, a frequently abused painkiller.

I have to provide a photo ID to fly someplace, meaning I am not free to move about the country (by air at least) without telling strangers who I am. Part of my contract with the airlines allows strangers with no probable cause to believe I am committing a crime to search my baggage and the contents of my pockets.

The manager of a Hernando County motel where I had been staying for 26 years suddenly told me a couple of years ago that I couldn't stay there anymore because I lived too close, and he suspected that I would use the room for illicit purposes.

I wanted to swim in their pool.

I have been searched entering concerts to make sure that I wasn't carrying a weapon or illegal drugs.

A diabetic friend of mine was once searched by a security guard who disregarded several hypodermic needles in his belly-pack but zeroed in on M&Ms, which he also carried because of his medical condition. It turned out the venue, because it sold food, would not allow any food items to be carried in. Ironically, it was a Grateful Dead concert, where anyone taking a deep breath could tell that at least a couple of pounds of marijuana did get in.

Sadly, each of these infringements on what used to be the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution comes with a justification that is usually sufficiently strong to have made us surrender that tiny portion of our rights.

Nobody wants to be on a hijacked airliner, and air rage incidents show us that enough unarmed loonies are already getting on airplanes.

Employees and customers in robbery-prone businesses are understandably jittery, and banks are tired of getting defrauded.

And I am not at all opposed to something that will keep me from getting mugged on the streets of Ybor City.

But how well does it work? They used the same software at the Super Bowl and found no criminals in that massive audience. Now (and believe me, we would have heard if it was otherwise) the software hasn't yet found a crook in Ybor City. Shucks, I'll bet it couldn't even find any in the state Legislature.

There are a lot of folks a lot farther over the line on this than I. They suspect that the government wants to map our every movement so that it can take away our guns, make us stop praying in school and swear allegiance to the United Nations.

My fear is that the unplanned piecemeal surrender of our privacy might not be as sinister as all that, but that, one way or the other, it will be very difficult to get it back once it is gone.

I do not yet hear the rotor-beat of black helicopters, but then, there's all of that stealth technology that we got from the aliens . . .