Does Crime Necessitate a Surveillance State?

The Maryland Transit Authority is rolling out plans to add audio surveillance to the video surveillance they already have inside their buses. Infowars reported:

 [C]ity officials have now authorized the recording of private conversations on public buses “to investigate crimes, accidents and poor customer service.” Marked with signs to alert passengers that open mics are picking up every word they say, the first 10 buses with the new surveillance equipment began operation towards the end of October. Eventually, officials say they will expand the program to 340 buses, or about half the fleet, by next summer.

 As usual, their reasoning is that any kind of constant and public surveillance is a crime deterrent. The more invasive, the lower the crime rate. Even though the MTA has reported a 50% drop in crime incidents on their buses in the last 4 years and simultaneously an 11% increase in ridership, many see this as just another step toward a police state. The Baltimore Sun tried to dissuade readers from Big Brother fears:

 Make no mistake, it is entirely possible that such surveillance opportunities could be abused by overzealous law enforcement. But in the real world, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Investigators simply don’t have the time or opportunity to eavesdrop on conversations.

 Oh, please. “In the real world…” Of course we are subject to overzealous law enforcement. Nothing we do or say on the internet or our phones is secret anymore. What are they talking about, “In the real world…?” That is the real world. I’d agree that they “don’t have the time.” The troubling thing is, they do it anyway.

However, they have reported a drop in crime since they started taking surveillance measures. Would-be criminals and trouble-makers know they are being watched and now heard, so they think twice about committing crimes. And those that are innocent have “nothing to hide,” we’re told. The surveillance does seem to be doing what it was prescribed to do. It seems a small price to pay to be or at least feel safe.

The problem is, even though the civilian crime rate on these buses might have decreased, the “crime rate” among law enforcement officials has increased. They’re violating the 4th Amendment. That’s criminal.

But maybe that’s just what happens in a culture of crime. Our laws are backwards, we have criminals lording over us in government, violent criminals lurk in our streets and justice is scarce. Is a Big Brother scenario the only way to maintain order in such a culture?

We haven’t seen the worst of a police state. We’re only seeing the beginning. Right now, it seems to be little more than an annoyance. The logical conclusion to a complete surveillance state is a world where every individual is forced to live in his own prison cell, where everything he says, does or thinks is being monitored. If that’s the scenario, the crime rate would be near zero, and everybody would technically be safer and more secure. But in that world, there would be no freedom or liberty.

Freedom and liberty are difficult to maintain. They require constant vigilance and personal responsibility. Remember the Israelites who complained all the way to the Promised Land, lamenting how they longed for the safety and security of their bondage to the Egyptians rather than the responsibilities of living in freedom. Both slavery and freedom come with trade offs. As the saying goes, “I’d rather die a free man than live as a slave.”

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