Saturday, March 10, 2012

Who's Doing the Spying?

Mendax News Service

John Bull lives in an upscale gated community. A week or so ago, his neighbor Tommy Atkins who is also head of the Home Owners Association told him of a proposal by some members of the HOA to attach GPS tracking devices to the vehicles of the residents of the community.

Mr. Atkins said that they also thought it would be a good idea to put cameras on everybody's car so they could see everywhere the car went. It was also suggested by some of the board members that everybody in the association have his phone tapped, email intercepted and browser history monitored.

Mr Bull was not receptive to the idea and even expressed opposition to it, threatening to stir up opinion against it. Atkins tried to reason with Bull by explaining that it was all for the good of the members and if he had nothing to hide, he should have no objection. Atkins also pointed out that there were already cameras everywhere he went and that the government was probably reading and storing his electronic communications anyway, so it was no big deal. Bull was not mollified and pointed out that it was different when the government did it because they had a good reason and the HOA was just being a bunch of busybodies. Atkins asked how it was "different" when the government did it, but Bull said he didn't know, it was just different.

Atkins pointed out that there would be safeguards on the information collected so that it wouldn't fall into the wrong hands and that the HOA had no power to jail him or confiscate his property. Bull remained his bull-headed self, arguing that it would be an invasion of privacy even though he didn't have anything to hide and that it was none of the HOA's business where he went, who he talked to or what sites he visited.

Atkins could see that he was getting nowhere, so he tried to reason with Bull by pointing out that if his wife broke down at night in the middle of nowhere the GPS would be a lifesaver (maybe literally) in locating her whereabouts. "And just think how it might benefit your children if a sharp-eyed board member notices that they're fraternizing online with murderers and child molesters" Atkins said.

Bull was getting madder by the minute, so Atkins tried to calm him down by telling him that the proposal was going to be voluntary anyway and all a member had to do to opt out was fill out a few forms and pay a nominal  fee of twelve-hundred pounds a month over and above the usual HOA dues. If a resident wanted to opt out of having pole mounted cameras facing his house there would be an additional charge for that.

Bull starting ranting and raving about "invasions of privacy," "peeping Toms" and a "police-state atmosphere" to the point that Atkins could see that he was paranoid. He was about to go home and let Bull cool down when Bull asked, "Why do you want this information?" Atkins explained that it would make the community more secure and provide a sense of well-being, solidarity and help in the fight against terrorism.

Atkins also took pains to point out to the thick-headed Mr. Bull that the HOA couldn't charge him with a crime although they could report him for criminal or suspicious activity, but that would never happen. He reminded Bull that, "This isn't Spain, this is England!" and that there was nothing to worry about.

Atkins' condescending attitude only succeeded in inflaming Bull's temper. Bull accused Atkins of being a busybody, a spy and a voyeur and shouting that where he went, who he talked to or what websites he visited were "none of his damn business." Atkins saw that Bull was clearly crazy, but he had never seen this before because they had always talked about sports, the weather, or maybe the war against foreign terrorists. In the past, Bull had even expressed approval of illegal wiretaps, illegal and quasi-legal activities to catch criminals, traitors and terrorists, so his reaction was doubly surprising.

Bull, now that his privacy was being compromised, had suddenly become some kind of civil libertarian. Atkins decided to go back home and talk to Bull in a day or two after he had come to his senses and to ponder why Bull objected to his neighbors spying, but not the government.


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  2. CHRISTOPHER PRATTMay 27, 2012 at 8:02 PM

    I have read all your articles classed as satire, and like this the most. It is uncomfortably on the borderline of reality and phantasy.
    For example, the argument in support of GPS as a potential life-saver has a parallel with the National Health Service summary care record. This is the scheme introduced in England two years ago whereby health records held by local medical practices and hospitals have been made available to any NHS care provider throughout the country. Permission was not required for this, the assumption was that individuals were happy with the process unless formal objection was made.
    Having myself some years ago been placed at life-threatening risk because of the misinterpretation of medical records, my decision was to opt out.
    Congratulations on your work.

    1. Thanks, I'm sure we'll have the same sort of system with the same sort of "protections."