The big contemporary story now on the civil liberties front is that of the recent revelations made via the Guardian and the Washington Post about the extensive program of US Government spying, on its own citizens and those abroad, and with the cooperation of most Internet institutions such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook. An up-and-coming related issue is the anger against US authorities coming from foreign governments and institutions – such as the EU – whose citizens are being spied upon in this way. Some press reaction has been “Nothing-to-see-here-folks.” (A terrible piece, but I feel it merits being pushed forward because of the national prominence of the columnist – yes, it’s Friedman.) Other reaction has been much more worrisome (in the same NYT issue), or even manic (none of which is to say that the mania in question might not be justified).
Still, here at €S we deal (mostly) with the European press, and we like to look for the small but telling new development within the greater picture. I believe we have just that today, from the Belgian (French-speaking) paper La Libre Belgique (and just hold on for a little bit more to appreciate the irony of that daily’s name), with Talking cameras land at Charleroi.
Yes, “land” (débarquent), perhaps as if they were some sort of extraterrestrial. But that’s not as laughable as you may think, for these are indeed security cameras which have had added to them built-in loudspeakers for the watching police to use.
Use for what? To boss around the citizen whom that police-monitor has just spotted committing an infraction, that’s what, although the article prefers the tamer verb interpeller (“to speak peremptorily to”). This short piece’s final paragraph then reads, “The infractions these aim at are varied, from illegal dumping to badly-parked cars to paper discarded on the ground.”
Think of that, in light of what the US government (and soon, if not already, our own European governments) know about us and what we do. Just think about that, how far we have come and how far we apparently are going. “Badly-parked cars”; police bawling you out on the sidewalk from out of a security camera.
Yes, for now mention is only made of Charleroi, a city in southern Belgium, having this equipment installed. And that will only be at the beginning of next year. But it’s surely coming to us all, and soon, as is surely the landmark case that decides what happens to he who responds to such “peremptorily” being spoken to with nothing more than an upraised middle finger. I have abundant hope that such a case will be triggered early in this whole sad process; but I cannot offer much hope about the conclusion that will be reached.