Security and Privacy as a Pretext to Hide Corruption?

If 10,000 people can see something with their eyes, each day, is it really a security matter? Can it really be a privacy matter? Or is this a pretext to hide evidence of corruption or other embarrassment?

Criminalizing Observation

In Chicago recently, there was some upset when it was believed that the police were attempting to write laws to protect them from being filmed while they were working. (Click here.)

Many of us are surprised when we find such suspicious government efforts in the U.S.  But of course, it is happening internationally quite frequently.

Working internationally, I  often find cab drivers advising that I not take photos of the most benign subjects for fear of police officers arresting me and taking my cell phone.

Me: “Seriously? It’s a dirt road?  or “That’s a traffic jam!”

Typical replies:

“Yes, it is against the law” Or

“It is against the law unless you have a written release from each person in the photograph.” (No, I am not kidding – see here for examples of country specific privacy laws.)


“There may be government people’s houses here.”

“There are government buildings in this picture.”

Security Issues are Real

Don’t get me wrong. I have seen first hand that it is a dangerous world, and security can be a very serious matter. But occasionally, my mind wonders toward suspicion when considering measures that restricts a person’s right to see and comment on what is directly visible and experienced by thousands of people.  (See Is Photography  Becoming Illegal?)

It could be judged that any government’s reaction to being “seen” follows a certain scale.

The gradient scale of government fear seems to vary conversely to their ability to . . . influence . . . the witnesses.

  • No concern about being seen.
  • Individual witnesses can be intimidated.
  • Individuals with cameras can also be intimidated, but it may take more effort.
  • Individuals with cell phone cameras are a much bigger problem because you have to find a way to stop them from immediately broadcasting what has been seen through social media.

In that regard, cell phones pose a nasty problem for government officials concerned about being seen. A problem that is broadly solved with over reaching privacy and national security laws.

If “evidence” can be regulated away as illegal, we are left with only the problem governments have been able to solve since the stone age – how to handle witnesses without evidence that may dare to speak.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

The hew and cry of privacy and national security begins to come across somewhat like the “Emperor’s New Clothes” when the “secret” or privacy matter is plainly observed by so many and already exists throughout the internet and Google Earth.

Evaluating actual security and privacy issues is a legitimate function of government responsible for the protection of its people and their individual rights.  But in some circumstances where privacy and security issues are raised it seems fair to ask, “Is this a pretext?”

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