You don’t know who’s watching

Electronic surveillance is becoming more commonplace - is it becoming more acceptable as well?

In an ever-changing world, there are some things that just don’t change. Nobody likes being watched by strangers without their knowing it.

It makes us paranoid, afraid, and not because we have something bad to hide.

There is all sorts of protection for our electronic identification on banking websites and health databases. And privacy laws make it impossible to access even needed information.

But there seems to be no interest in protecting the general public from electronic surveillance.

Many stores have surveillance cameras now. Schools are moving there. We see them at traffic intersections.

Governments reason that they need to watch everything that’s going on in order to maintain law and order. While that may sound reasonable, putting everyone in jail will also maintain law and order. The question is always, how far do you want to go? And are there alternatives that don’t impinge on people’s basic rights?

Last week CBC carried a story about an Ontario man who found an unmarked GPS tracking device attached to his truck. No one can tell him who put it there or who it belongs to. But someone was gathering information on him for unknown reasons, and no one is accountable for it.

Not only are we easier to find in this electronic world (try “Googling” a name), but the chances of misinformation are also much increased because of the ease of finding it and also because of the sheer volume of information out there. Ten people with the same name suddenly share a criminal record; a casual comment by an acquaintance gets you banned from crossing the border or bording an airplane.

News travels fast(er) and you never know who is sitting in front of the monitor at the receiving end. We used to call it spying. President Richard Nixon got in trouble for it. Now it’s rather common, though still unwanted.

And while bad enough, the misinformation generated in this fashion leaves its thumbprints all over the electronic world and can never be eradicated.

They’re always watching.

Wendy Coomber is editor of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Joural

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