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Big Brother TV Or Distributed Citizen Action?

The governor of Texas has announced plans to stream the video feed from hundreds of border surveillance cameras over the Internet. "A stronger border is what Americans want and it's what our security demands and that is what Texas is going to deliver," Governor Rick Perry said.

The intent is to provide an 800 number to viewers. If you happen to spot anyone crossing the border, call the number and let the border patrol handle it.

The cameras will cost $5m (2.7m) to install and will be trained on sections of the 1,000-mile (1,600km) border known to be favored by illegal immigrants.

This is an issue that cuts across several different areas of concern for American citizens. On the one hand, police and citizens have always worked together in neighborhood watch programs; extra eyes make it easier for overburdened police officers. On the other hand, there is something a bit creepy about a program that is based on the idea that strangers all over the globe will be recruited to perform surveillance duties.

There are several interesting correlations between this program and science fiction. In his 1999 novel All Tomorrow's Parties, writer William Gibson writes about the "Lucky Dragon Global Interactive Video Column" outside an international chain of convenience stores. It would show you randomly selected live feeds from the video surveillance cameras in other stores all over the world.

You had to pass it entering and leaving the store, so you'd see whichever dozen Lucky Dragons franchise [it] happened to be linked with at that particular moment: Paris or Houston or Brazzaville, wherever.
(Read more about Interactive Video Column)

This is presented more in the context of cheap entertainment than Big Brother. On the other hand, consider the following scene from Ray Bradbury's 1954 novel Fahrenheit 451, in which the totalitarian, book-burning government is looking for the novel's hero, who is on the run for reading books:

"Police suggest entire population in the Elm Terrace area do as follows: Everyone in every house in every street open a front or rear door or look from the windows. The fugitive cannot escape if everyone in the next minute looks from his house. Ready!"

Of course! Why hadn't they done it before! Why, in all the years, hadn't this game been tried! Everyone up, everyone out...

He imagined thousands on thousands of faces peering into yards, into alleys, and into the sky, faces hid by curtains, pale, night-frightened faces, like gray animals peering from electronic caves, faces with gray colorless eyes, gray tongues, and gray thoughts looking out through the numb flesh of the face...
(Read more about Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451)

Interestingly, this has also been tried in a slightly different way in London. Shoreditch TV is an experiment in beaming live closed-circuit video signals from street surveillance cameras into people's homes. Viewers can watch the dog walkers, would-be graffiti artists and keep an eye on the local pub. This summer 22,000 Londoners will be tuning in. The channel is described as "fighting crime from the sofa."

The British are pretty much into surveillance cameras - read Spy Cameras Watch Spy Cameras In UK. Read more about Shoreditch TV and Texas Border Patrol.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/2/2006)

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