Orwell did not guess the worst of it

It has become a cliche to bring up George Orwell's book penned in 1948 when talking about the ever-increasing pervasiveness of government monitoring of the activities of their citizens in the name of security. But Orwell's apocalyptic picture, in the book 1984 of a quiet dehumanization missed entirely the most important threat to our privacy and sense of being.

Orwell painted a picture of a world where government has the ability to monitor everyone, everywhere: individuals never know when they are under surveillance, so tend always to act as if they are.

The most recent reason to invoke Orwell was presented by Harold Hurtt, chief of police in Houston, Texas, who suggested that police-run surveillance cameras in public places did not go far enough and said that owners of malls and large apartment complexes should be required to install such cameras as well. If that was not enough to set off us civil-liberties types, he also said that in some cases surveillance cameras should be set up to monitor private residences.

Hurtt proposed expanding the number of police-run surveillance cameras to help deal with a shortage of police officers. It is hard to argue that it would not make things easier for the police if they could record everything everyone did and could track robbers back to when they took the gun used in a robbery out from under the bedroom pillow in the morning. Not the kind of world I'd like to live in, but more convenient for the police.

As one might expect, the chief dismissed any privacy concern by saying, "If you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?"

Most places are already under watch. It is hard to walk more than a few feet inside a mall or large office building without being recorded by a security camera.

More pervasive are corporate databases that record everything you buy, read or do.

Orwell missed the fact that much of the privacy threat would come from the private sector, where there are few meaningful, legally mandated controls.

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