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‘Intellistreets’ mean they’re getting intel – on you!

December 23, 2011

Technology should serve rather than dominate us.  The same can be said of government.  When the latter employs the former to ‘serve’ the public by spying on them, then one may conclude that not only is the public interest being abused, but that the public, who pays, ultimately, for what government does, has failed in its’ duty to itself to act as a check and balance on government.  The case in point that prompts these words is that the city of Farmington Hills, Michigan (suburban Detroit) is the first in the nation to deploy ‘Intellistreets‘ technology, whereby new streetlights not only illuminate, but also watch everything around them.  Fighting crime is the reason given for deploying this system, but one may be certain that, even in the toughest neighborhoods in neighboring Detroit, 98% of what happens within camera-shot of any given streetlight isn’t crime.  Thus, the public, in exchange for ‘protection’ from crime, gives up all expectation of privacy when outside the closed doors and curtained windows of home.  As these ‘lights’ also record conversation, one should whisper when behind closed curtains to be sure of privacy.  (Playing music in the background might be useful too; other privacy tips could be found by watching old spy movies and taking notes.)

This pernicious idea, like many others, comes into actuality through federal grant-making.  Local resources would not, even in a wealthy suburb like Farmington Hills, allow for new streetlights at $3,000 a pop, plus the back-end costs of monitoring and maintenance.  A Federal energy-efficiency grant paid for this.  (Ultimately, tax-payers pay for everything, but the proximate source of the funding was the Federal Government.)  Like all grants, this is not ‘free money.’  Strings are attached, as one would expect.  What those strings are, and how tightly they constrain the City of Farmington Hills, is something that this writer does not know; what he suspects, with over a decade of federal grant coordination & management in his background, is that there are reporting requirements, and that these grants contain such of those as fit whatever purposes shaped the program from whence this grant came.

Finally, regardless of the intent behind this system, one thing is certain:  Given human nature, power, once given, will not be surrendered voluntarily, and while held, it will be abused.  That we can name, and celebrate men like Cincinnatus and Washington (to whom he was compared) ought to prove that their surrendering power voluntarily was so much the exception as to prove the rule.  Those who rule over us now have the power to spy on us; whether they will prove to be latter-day Cincinnati is not something that I would want to stake my fate upon.

(Thanks to my son, Halston, for sharing the story of these ‘lights’ with me.)

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