So says the assistant city manager of Dayton, Ohio, as she sings the praises of Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS), a Cessna-mounted camera system capable of staying aloft for hours at a time, scanning large swaths of city from 10,000 feet up.
After learning about the attempted robberies, PSS conducted frame-by-frame video analysis of the bookstore and sandwich shop and was able to show that exactly one car traveled between them. Further analysis showed that the suspect then moved on to a Family Dollar store in the northern part of the city, robbed it, stopped for gas—where his face was captured on video—and eventually returned home.
A man named Joseph Bucholtz was arrested the following month and pled guilty to three counts of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and one count of robbery. In November 2012, he was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay $665 to the bookstore.
Okay, it has a certain degree of utility, given its DVR capabilities and when coupled with competent forensic analytics. But as is so often the case with bureaucrats, the assistant city manager takes rather a simplistic view:
“I don’t have any qualms about being surveilled because I’m not doing anything wrong. If it means that unlawful citizens get stopped—I don’t have anything to hide from.”
It’s an argument that completely dismisses the implications of surveillance systems over the long term, as history has repeatedly demonstrated that whenever governments are given a new tool – or a defined mission – governments expand them. One need look no further than EPA for an example of the effects of mission creep: in addition to its recent efforts to assert jurisdiction over all waters in the USA – including that flowing down the ditch in front of your home following a rainstorm – they’ve now written another regulation in which they assert authority to seize the assets of anyone whom they believe to be in violation of one of their regulations; no trial necessary. It’s highly doubtful that when President Nixon created the agency he envisioned any such overreach, but of course that is exactly what has transpired in the intervening years.
There is no reason to believe that ’round the clock, citywide surveillance would not be similarly “embraced and extended”, to borrow a phrase from the Microsoft playbook. Such systems may be introduced as criminal-catching tools, but that’s likely to be only the first step; it will surely be but a matter of time before the systems are extended to include those who disagree with prevailing governmental wisdom.
It’s a mistake that we will all come to regret.