I am John Moon [of] Brookline, Massachusetts. I am an Emeritus Professor of History, whose specialty is the history of chemical and biological weapons.
I am centering my argument against the placement and operation of surveillance cameras in a national context. The impact of 9/11 and subsequent actions taken by the federal government to confront an existing threat cannot be isolated from actions taken or proposed throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
After 9/11, speculation was rife in government circles that this horrible event was the first wave of a succession of attacks that would inevitably culminate in chemical, biological, radiological or even nuclear strikes against our country. This fear was understandable at the time of the event and in the early months that followed. However, the persistence of this deep fear led to an overreaction, close to panic: to warrantless surveillance, to enhanced interrogation techniques.
Let us recall that the surveillance cameras, which are now being promoted as crime preventing, crime solving measures, were initially justified as a means to help evacuations in response to a catastrophic event.
Since 9/11, countless communities have carried out exercises so that their first responders will be better prepared to deal with a terrorist strike. In no case, as far as I am aware, have these tests carried out evacuations beyond the local area. In the case of a biological attack, for example, evacuations would be counter productive and cameras would not help. They cannot detect invisible weapons.
Let us recall that the gift giver of these cameras is the Department of Homeland Security, an agency not especially sensitive to privacy rights. It is this agency, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, that is fostering the fusion centers spread throughout the nation. On 16 October 2006, Michael Chertoff, former head of the Department of Homeland Security, defined the purpose of these fusion centers as a way to create “a national network of intelligence fusion…to support state and local decision makers, chiefs of police, and state and local intelligence officials.”
Today, more than forty fusion centers are spread throughout the nation, fifteen more are planned. One of these fusion centers is located in Maynard, Massachusetts. In the goals cited on its website, there is no mention of the need to protect privacy while strengthening security.
And will these cameras make us safer? Last year, my wife and I spent two months in London while I did research in the U.K. National Archives.
Great Britain has an extensive surveillance network: London alone has 200,000 cameras, and more than 4 million cameras have been deployed throughout the country. It is estimated that there is one camera for every 14 people and the average Briton is seen by 300 cameras per day.
On the first day that we arrived in London, I was pick-pocketed in the center of the city. In spite of the many cameras the thief was not caught.
This world of surveillance is being put in place at a time when our national laws have not caught up with a technological revolution that is accelerating. Knowledge is power. There are those who have sought to create Total Information Awareness systems for the use of the national government. As Lord Acton reminds us: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
What is now in place will be surpassed in the near future.
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