Mark Antony Rossiís Machine Therapy No. 7

When Big Brother Is You: The Camera Eye and the Citizen Spy

George Orwell prophesied in the startlingly accurate book 1984 of a society under constant scrutiny by two-way screens able to spy upon any person at any time. The screens were a powerful instrument of fear and information collection brutally utilized by a fascist regime to control its population. With the technological improvements created since the book's release, regimes such as Stalin's, where the countryside was wired for sound or Romania's street corners embedded with video cameras, strike a digital deja vu in a free world suspecting similar methods might be used against them in the future.

Strangely enough, widespread abuses of technology by our government against its citizenry is not routine practice. (Unless you count overzealous federal authorities with court-ordered wiretaps.) Instead what abuses are reported are by average people angry with ex-girlfriends and wives or businesses committing fraud. Local courts are reporting increases in civil suits filed against individuals secretly videotaping sexual acts for public embarrassment.

Watchdog groups have formed with their sole purpose: recording police arrests because of the distrust associated with recent cases of police brutality. Corporations record conversations and pictures of employees detained in restrooms. Texaco lost more than a hundred million dollars because an executive recorded a racist conversation by top brass detailing discriminatory hiring practices.

The list continues as political groups record each other's demonstrations, campaign workers show up at the opposition's rallies for recording purposes, activists following corporate transportation vehicles to record illegal chemical dumping, religious zealots videotape outdoor functions of alleged cultists, and average next-door neighbors record the bad or impolite habits of other residents.

Orwell had not foreseen (and how could he?) the invention of handheld mini-recorders--affordable, user-friendly devices capable of reproducing sound and picture with professional quality. He could have never guessed that the greatest threat to our privacy would come from bubble-gum chewing electronic enthusiasts rather than the efficient organs of a state security agency. This, sadly and unexpectedly, has hatched an ironic dilemma.

We are a nation run amok with camcorder addicts recording everything that jolts their curiosity or prejudice. Other than the normal legal restrictions that apply to trespassing, there is not much to be done to curtail camcorder activities. I certainly do not have much sympathy for cheating spouses caught on tape by private eyes, but what of other private situations exposed publicly that have no place before our leering eyes?

Unfortunately technology has inadvertently mobilized a mob of normally law-abiding people bent on violating the very space they hold so dear. Blackmail, ruined careers, suicide, physical assault, and murder are steep prices we incur for playfully mimicking fascist behavior in a democratic country priding itself on protecting liberty and privacy. Big Brother has become us.


Mark Antony Rossi is a bioethics expert and the author of the recently released paperback, "The INtruder Bulletins: The Dark Side of Technology", available at Amazon.com and B&N.com.