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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Our Brave New World

Large sections of Ottawa Airport are now covered by high-definition cameras and wired for sound. The technology “will record conversations” in key areas, such as the primary inspection area for arriving international passengers, according to the official statement. Video and audio will be stored and retained. It’s part of the Canadian Border Services Agency plan to keep everyone safe from “organized crime and internal smuggling conspiracies.” Border services officers now have expanded powers to question, examine and search airport workers and both domestic and international travelers. Once any kinks are worked out this summer, the airports at Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver go online, and then all border crossings.

These are the Canadians, the “nice” North Americans. Some of their politicians are now funded by the same people who fund some of our politicians.

You may already know that an elaborate closed-circuit digital camera system monitors all of Times Square (most of us saw video footage of the attempted car bombing there in 2010). You likely do not know that the city of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, population 15,039, has an identical system in its downtown. It cost $180,000 and was paid for by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant. Liberty, Kansas, population 95, got a grant to put cameras in their one public park.

It is difficult for any government to turn down free money, or to look like they aren’t doing everything possible to keep constituents safe. Governments around the country are becoming addicted to War on Terror money the same way they have been addicted for years to War on Drugs money.

DHS has given out at least $34 billion in grants to militarize local police forces. Fargo, North Dakota took the money, as did Canyon County, Idaho. States and cities can also be gifted surplus military hardware, and increasingly broke cities are using free M-16 rifles and other goodies to arm their police forces. The police in Delaware, Ohio (population 34,753) took a grenade launcher that can also fire teargas canisters.

Earlier this year, negative public reaction forced the City Council of Keene, New Hampshire (population 23,409) to table $285,000 in Department of Homeland Security funding for an eight-ton Bearcat armored personnel carrier, as well as the camouflage gear, assault weapons, optional battering ram and teargas canisters that make up the total package. The salesperson for the Bearcat manufacturer stated that “We have Bearcats in 90 percent of the 100 or so largest cities in America. This is going to happen. It has already happened.” Recently, Keene bought the Bearcat.

Congress passed a law recently that authorizes the blanket, widespread use of surveillance drones on American soil. The infrastructure is already in place. There are already no less than 64 unmanned aerial vehicle bases in operation or in various stages of planning or construction in the continental United States (three are coming online in Upstate New York). There is going to be a surge in surveillance drones sold to foreign countries and to American municipal police forces and universities, scores of which have now added SWAT teams. Hundreds of thousands of people have viewed online video of the hummingbird drone, a tiny robotic spy plane that can fly in a window and transmit everything it sees.

Over the last decade, we have spent some $636 billion on homeland security measures and yet the Times Square bomber and the shoe bomber were caught not by the surveillance or airport checks, but by alert civilians in the vicinity. The Israelis, who know something about internal security, never touch people at their airports, don’t spend billions on scanners, don’t hassle Grandma over the cuticle scissors in her luggage.

Young people who are seniors in college right now were only ten years old on 9/11. Many are aware of the probability that their communications are monitored, emails intercepted, retail purchases tracked. We now know that cell phone companies provide law enforcement officials with “tower dumps,” databases of everyone who used a particular cell phone tower during a particular time period. This is the world your kids know, the only one they have known. And they seem pretty cool with it. Are you?

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net