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Somebody's Watching Me

The government is tracking us



“Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take, I’ll be watching you.”
—“Every Breath You Take,” The Police

A long time ago on a campus not that far away, we would sometimes catch a glimpse of a slight, bespectacled fellow going from building to building, leaving in everyone’s mailbox page after page detailing how he was being tracked by The Government. His reports of Government surveillance were very well-written, and received high marks from English professors on how well he marshaled evidence and made his case.

Of course, this very good writer was clearly off his rocker. One could admire his capacity for argument, but it was hard to overlook his wacky initial premise, i.e., that The Government had implanted electrodes in his brain. The Government (always capitalized) knew his every thought and watched his every move, including, to his embarrassment, his bowel movements.

Around the same time, I visited Washington, D.C., and had dinner with an old friend, an official in the Defense Department, who casually mentioned that “you have no idea how much the government knows—we can find out anything.” I took this with a grain of salt, accepting his boast as a boozy, and thus forgivable, wish to impress.

Glued to the tube recently to get the latest minute-by-minute update on the Boston Marathon bombers, I thought of my friend’s boast a long time ago. It was astonishing how much and how quickly “The Government” was able to find out about the brothers in the baseball caps. In hopes of getting a handle on what was happening, the befuddled TV reporters kept going to interviews with retired spooks, who muttered knowingly—but not giving anything away, of course—about data mining, face-recognition technology and other mysterious instruments of information-gathering.

It was the bemused George Stephanopoulos of ABC who summed it up best: “I guess an awful lot goes on behind the scenes that we just don’t know about.”

For the first time in years, I thought about the poor paranoid with the electrodes implanted in his frontal cortex—or was it the medulla oblongata?—and his earnest conviction that The Government was monitoring his every move. “See, I told you so, and you didn’t believe me! I bet those Chechen brothers had electrodes in their brains just like me!”

I have no doubt that it is technically feasible to equip every citizen’s brain with some sort of electrode or computer chip—we microchip our dogs, why not our newborns?—but it hardly seems necessary. Our every move is already pretty much monitored in some form or another: closed-circuit TVs, computer records, smartphone interactions, etc. And what about those nifty, high-flying drones? Are you sure that awkward bumblebee in your backyard isn’t really a low-flying miniature drone peeking in your window?

For all intents and purposes, Big Brother, and not just Sting, is already watching you. Just yesterday, there was a cheerful little story in the paper about “body cameras” that will soon be deployed by our local police forces. According to the article in The Salt Lake Tribune, “the camera of choice is the Taser AXON Flex on-officer system, a small, lightweight camera that an officer can clip to a headband, sunglasses or shirt collar.” The good news is that such cameras reduce police brutality; the bad news is that miniature cameras will soon be standard features—and why not?—of all human accoutrements.

So, we will all be watched, up close and personal. This is a good thing, I guess, for all of us law-abiding folks. Ever since 9/11, we have all been monitored to a degree that we are not usually aware of, until a situation arises like the Boston Marathon bombings that demonstrates just how much The Government is watching us.

God is watching us, too, as the distinguished theologian Bette Midler informs us in her soulful song. Trouble is, as the Divine Miss M sings, God is watching us from a distance, and from a distance, there are “no guns, and no bombs.” But as we know, up close and personal there are a lot of guns and bombs, and God hasn’t done a great job of controlling guns or detecting bombs.

With God asleep at the wheel, we can’t afford to just sit around until he wakes up. In the meantime, The Government is our only alternative, and it has done a fairly good job on the bomb front. But guns, like death and taxes, are another matter.


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