News Columns & Blogs

The galloping intrusion of Big Brother

Some of you old hippies may remember the 1969 protest song “Monster” by Steppenwolf that contains the line: “The police force is watching the people, and the people just can’t understand.”

The lyric comes to mind this week with Richard Dymond’s story that Longboat Key Police Chief Al Hogel is proposing mounting license verification cameras on Longboat Pass Bridge at the north end of the island and at New Pass Bridge on the southern end. They would scan every license plate entering the island.

The cameras would link into national and state databases and alert local police when they get a hit on a wanted suspect who drives onto the island paradise.

That’s fine, we certainly don’t want dangerous criminals in our midst. But it’s a little bit like treating all of us like criminals by running every license plate through a crime computer.

There is a significant difference in a camera that arbitrarily treats everyone like a criminal, and the passive camera that’s only triggered when someone commits the illegal act of running a red light.

It’s more of the Orwellian specter of the ever-present Big Brother watching all of us.

Scary as Hogel’s idea may be, it could prove to be a contagious virus that infects other local government bodies. There are plenty of people who are sick and tired of criminal activity in our community; I’m one of them. But I’m not ready to so readily surrender every last freedom, including the one that forbids unreasonable search.

OK, it’s debatable about whether it’s unreasonable search, or an invasion of privacy.

Maybe I just don’t like the camera looking at me that way.

So, what do I propose to do about it? I just did it. I said the idea stinks.

If Longboat Key adopts the camera, will I stay away in protest?

Probably not. I probably won’t even think about it. I’ll just drive over and look at that blue-green water, maybe even jump into it, and let all my problems and tensions wash away.

But I do think it’s time to draw a line in the sand, and the sand of Longboat Key is as good a place as any. Folks, if you are concerned about the creeping intrusion of government into your lives, let your elected officials know.

“All right Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up,” Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond said in the classic movie “Sunset Boulevard.”

Unfortunately, we all get plenty of close-ups every day.

There’s a camera there watching when we enter the drive-through at our favorite fast-food restaurant.

Walk into your supermarket and see ourselves in an overhead monitor (gee, am I really that fat, bald and old?). They are in banks, newspaper lobbies, and malls.

It would be easier to say where they aren’t.

Creeping intrusion? Maybe galloping intrusion is a better way to put it.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.