Surveillance need to be brought out into the open
Nov 21, 2013 | 3835 views | 0 0 comments | 250 250 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For the past couple of weeks, staff reporter Jack Deming has been writing on a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont about government surveillance taking place in the state.

The report is clear: Surveillance is everywhere. Buy gas at the local station and chances are there’s a camera recording it. Shop at Shaw’s or WalMart and there is no doubt you are being tracked, from cameras in the ceiling to the checkout register, where your shopping habits are recorded every time you present a loyalty or credit card.

While most people don’t really think about how much spying is taking place around them, they should. Not because we’re paranoid about Big Brother, but because people should know who’s watching them, and why.

Granted, a lot of the surveillance and tracking is for marketing. Amazon is a master at it. They record any product search you initiate while shopping on the website, and then customize ads based on those searches that show up in any number of websites, include our very own It’s a little unsettling the first time you notice it, and shows just how much data can be gathered and stored for future use.

That’s the point of the ACLU-VT report. While much of it may seem benign, there is little doubt the data recorded and stored may provide information about us to the marketing and security agencies of the world that we may not want them to have.

Consider the executive summary from the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont report on surveillance in the state, and what its implications are:

Vermont used to be a state where both the notion and the reality of privacy were true. Over the last 12 years, Vermonters’ reality of privacy has eroded. We are being watched.

Today, Vermonters can barely go anywhere without creating a trail of digital information that pinpoints a person’s whereabouts at nearly any time, day after day.

One critical factor that sets Vermont apart is the international boundary it shares with Canada. The US Border Patrol claims the authority to stop and search travelers without any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing within 100 miles of an international border, making Vermont a perverse Ground Zero in the accelerating surveillance society.

The erosion of Vermonters’ privacy is evident:

US Border Patrol stops in Hartford; Automated License Plate Readers; Facial Recognition Software; Domestic Use of Drone Aircraft; and Fusion Centers

The arrival of some of these surveillance tools is partly because of Vermont’s position along an international border.

Vermonters have become caught in webs of surveillance with the capacity to track nearly everyone’s movements. Tacit acknowledgement from state legislators, perfunctory approval by local selectboards, or unquestioning acceptance by citizens has allowed numerous projects to get under way with little public discussion, political debate, or oversight.

Vermont, with little public discussion or acknowledgement, is moving towards a surveillance society.

A little scary, to say the least. The report may bring to mind thoughts of George Orwell’s dark novel “1984,” which presents a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control.

The book at one point was required reading in most high-school curriculums. As anyone who read the book knows, things aren’t what they seem. To us, that’s the point of the ACLU-VT report. Government has the keys to the information superhighway in ways never before imagined.

We need to be wary of what is really going on. We need watchdog groups like the ACLU to keep people informed and aware. We need politicians to look out for the interests of the little guy, not big business, and certainly not Big Brother.
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