Uncle Sam, Peeping and Listening to Us All

When Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian reported that the government had been listening to the private calls of Verizon customers, I felt, well, absolutely nothing. That's how I felt at first anyway. You see, my community has been the canary in the mine for a while now. In Chicago, on the South and West sides, police surveillance cameras, with their branded flashing blue lights, checkered borders and official insignia, have been peeping the activities of the citizenry from atop light poles since 2003.

It's like living under Stephen King's dome or having a permanent role on a reality show, but with none of the perks. Reality stars say that after awhile, they don't notice the cameras. Maybe that's why such wild moments have been captured on those shows. Remember that notorious scene in Flavor of Love when a young woman let rip certain bodily functions in a living room full of people? Who in their right mind ("right mind" being the key term here) would want the world to watch them potty? Maybe their antics belie the fact that they no longer notice that their every move is being watched.

When the Chicago police cameras were first installed, we were told, Never fear! The cameras will catch the bad guys in high crime communities. They neglected to mention that we would all be x-rayed--the innocent, victims, and perpetrators alike. We were all under suspicion.

Next came the red-light traffic cameras, which were installed and maintained by the Chicago Department of Transportation. The only time I notice these surveillance cameras now is when I get a traffic ticket in the mail, featuring a picture of my car and license plate, usually for running a yellow light. One hundred dollars is the cost of this high crime.

I'm sure the city views the police cameras and traffic cameras as serving two different purposes, but in my mind they're one and the same. Big Brother is watching.

Police budgets have been consistently chipped to the bone over the years, and technology has replaced flesh and blood police officers who are still needed to serve and protect. You can't even talk your way out of a traffic ticket anymore. It's chilling.

The Verizon story made me realize just how immune I've become to the intrusion of the blue and red lights in the sky, but when the cameras were first installed, I was so angry I could feel the erosion of rights in my bones. Interestingly, shockingly, my daughter, a millennial child of the digital age, didn't understand why I felt so violated. She saw the cameras as simply one frame in the film of life. While all this exposure makes me want to hide my nakedness, her generation seems to calmly accept the lack of privacy. In fact, they revel in it. They compete for attention on their cell phones, Tumblr blogs, and social networks.

Like Truman Burbank in the prophetic The Truman Show, they don't know what they don't know, and they won't suspect a thing until one of those police cameras breaks loose from the pole and crashes to the ground.