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Lange: Surveillance Creep

04/03/12 7:55AM By Willem Lange
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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange is a writer and storyteller who wonders if you ever get the creepy feeling that somebody's looking over your shoulder.  If so, he thinks you may not be suffering from paranoia.  Nowadays, somebody probably is.  Modern surveillance technology is becoming ubiquitous.

(Lange) Many of us had a good chuckle when, during the last election campaign, the newspapers published the photograph of a nocturnal miscreant in Chelsea swiping campaign signs from the yard of an assistant county judge. The judge had strapped a motion-activated game camera to a tree near the signs. Chelsea's a small town; everyone knew the star of the show.

More serious is the case of Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old Arab-American marketing student in California. When he took his Lincoln in for an oil change, the mechanic spotted a battery pack, transmitter, and wire antenna attached to its underside. Having no idea what the device was, Afifi had it removed, took a photograph of it, and posted it online, asking if anyone knew what it was.

Shortly afterward, half a dozen armed police officers and FBI agents showed up at his door demanding the return of their GPS unit, with which they had been tracking his movements for about six months. When Afifi asked why, they answered that it would "make this much more difficult for you if you don't cooperate." An FBI spokesman, contacted by a news reporter, said he couldn't comment because (Get ready for it!) "it's an ongoing investigation." The Supreme Court has subsequently declared the unwarranted surveillance unconstitutional.

In a way, it's comforting; we're doing better at catching the clowns who hold up convenience stores for pocket change. But in another, it's ominous. You may have noticed that security personnel seem utterly without humor or any appreciation of irony. Nobody in the business wants to be holding the bag when the next attack occurs. And they're being monitored, too!

Lately we've learned the latest tools in the security business are tiny drones that can fly around like songbirds, or land where they can watch targets for days or weeks.

Hiking the Canadian border, a swath of clear-cut from Fourth Connecticut Lake down to the border crossing, I was a few hundred yards away from the station when I said, "I hope they've got a washroom down there!" When we arrived, they told us we didn't need to check out, but if I wanted a men's room, there was one right around the corner. And was I a Canadian citizen? How'd they know that? And why did they want to know if I was a citizen? Well, he said, you said "washroom, not men's room." I'll tell you: They're everywhere. And they're listening!

This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work - which is hard to do when you're constantly looking over your shoulder.


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