Surveillance: Now It's Getting Personal
Last weekend's Washington Post story about the U.S. government collecting surprisingly personal data about millions of American travelers -- and saving the information in a database for years -- was chilling. Of course, as the story pointed out, the Automated Targeting System (as it's called) has been used to screen passengers at U.S. border points since the mid-1990s. But few of us were aware of just how detailed this record-keeping has become. I mean, they're checking what books we're reading?
It didn't help that I read the article a few days after seeing the German film "The Lives of Others," about life in Cold War-era East Germany and the secret police's surveillance of that country's citizens in the 1980s. Fantastic movie, if you haven't seen it -- not just for the gripping plot and human drama, but for the wider implications about corruption and power, and what happens when governments have free rein to spy on their citizens, and whether people can really change. But I digress.
The facts about our own government's detailed surveillance of travelers came to light when a group of civil liberties activists requested copies of their records, and found notes about a book one of them had been carrying (a tome on marijuana) and flashlights decorated with marijuana leaf symbols that they'd carried. Remember, these people were not violating any laws or involved in any crimes. They were simply traveling.
What do you think? Should we be worried about this violation of our privacy, or is this level of scrutiny necessary to protect our country from terrorists? If the latter, shouldn't we at least be aware of what's happening? Then we could at least cover our books with plain brown wrappers.
By K.C. Summers |
September 25, 2007; 12:02 PM ET
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