Jan 27

Cameras in Arroyo Grande are a far cry from ’1984′

My, how we get the willies at the specter of government overstepping its bounds and intruding into our concept of private life.

On the same day this week, we learned of both a U.S. Supreme Court ruling limiting the use of GPS monitoring by police and the installation of 10 pods of crime-deterring surveillance cameras around the Village of Arroyo Grande.

Immediately attached to each case was the predictable literary referencing to George Orwell, whose grim vision of the future as seen through the lens of the post-war 1940s has forever chiseled into stone a script of how we should react to such developments.

That is, in one way: “Yikes, this is disturbing. What’s next? Today, cameras on the light poles … tomorrow, mind-controlling implants.”

Surveillance cameras have been installed in downtown Arroyo Grande. This is on the building at the corner of East Branch and Bridge Streets. Tribune photo by David Middlecamp

Personally, I’m fine with the results of both news stories, even though they seem to track in opposite directions.

Law enforcement should follow appropriate judicial procedures when seeking to attach monitoring devices to suspects’ cars, but they also are within the bounds of reason in considering ways to prevent crime in our public places.

Frankly, posting eyes in the sky above Branch Street in Arroyo Grande seems perfectly reasonable to me, as the potential benefits (at least in this instance) far outweigh the likelihood of misuse.

Some people, however, are more suspicious, and wring their hands over the possible what-ifs that might follow. Prove these cameras actually deter crime, they say, or pretty soon we’ll have web cams tacked onto every fence post from Huasna to Harmony.

Let’s be reasonable: That last fear’s not gonna happen. At worst, we may see more monitoring in our downtowns and in particular places that might be prone to misbehavior.

But even if you are peeped upon while walking down Higuera Street, is that really a problem and do you not expect it already?

If you don’t want to be seen picking your nose in public, then don’t pick your nose in public.

Really, it’s that simple.

The only difference now is that it may be recorded and end up on YouTube, but with everyone and their third cousin walking around with high-definition smartphones, that’s going to happen anyway!

As for the police video, strict guidelines about usage of the footage should prevent any public indiscretions from becoming more publicized than they already were at the moment. If they don’t, and something leaks out, heads should roll.

What’s really behind the angst in this case, then, is our annoying penchant for narcissism.

In “America,” everything is always about “me.”

Everyone wants to know about me. Everything revolves around me. Me, me, me.

Guess what? Nobody cares about you, you, you, least of all some dispatcher tracking real emergency calls who now also has to keep one eye on a bank of video monitors.

You can stroll around in a moon suit with blinking antennas and a “beam me up, Scotty” sign and we won’t care (though we may snap a photo and post it on Facebook!).

We only care about you if you do something illegal or offensive or destructive to our community.

Consider this: If some child gets snatched off the street in A.G., how valuable will those cameras seem then?

So in the year 2012, when people evoke the fears of Orwellian government behavior, the charge is mostly off-target.

These cameras are not the next step toward a dystopian society. They’re a logical application of right-thinking public officials looking out for our well-being.

Today, Big Brother isn’t some totalitarian god figure looking to rob us of our individual rights.

It’s a stupid TV show about self-absorbed attention hounds looking to rob us of our intelligence.

We’re at far greater risk of the latter than the former.

What do you think? Share your thoughts here.

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1 comment

  1. sean

    Very one sided thinking. You present a couple of paths but are completely biased; if you took into account the other perspective on a larger scale you would see how wrong you are.

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