By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
PORTLAND – It’s no wonder people are starting to look over their shoulders a little more to see just how closely ‘Big Brother’s’ arm is reaching.
In Oregon, police are pushing a bill to expand the use of red light camera photos in criminal investigations. In Seattle, residents and civil rights groups are concerned about 30 port security cameras installed along the waterfront and through neighborhoods via a federal grant. And across the country, the coming wave of drone technology and its ability to track and record at levels previously unseen is freaking people out.
Some are even comparing it to George Orwell’s novel “1984,” which depicts a society that has descended into a frightening, totalitarian state.
“The concern is that that’s really what we’re heading towards,” said Dave Roland, litigator for the Freedom Foundation’s Theodore L. Stiles Center for Liberty in Washington state. “It’s incredibly dangerous for liberty.”
He argues there’s little proof police surveillance decreases crime and that it opens to the door to frightening possibilities.
“We never know who’s watching the cameras, who’s observing what’s going on,” he said.
Some lawmakers have heeded the cry for privacy protection, but balancing those concerns with a burgeoning technology — as well as police who want to use the technology to capture murderers and child abductors — is proving difficult. In Washington a bill to regulate drones that had garnered bipartisan support stalled amid concerns by Seattle-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing.
In Oregon, state Rep. John Huffman of The Dalles hopes his efforts to bring interested parties together will pay off. Huffan saw an emerging problem with drone technology more than a year ago and started working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, an unlikely partner for a Republican lawmaker.
But his concerns for Oregonians’ privacy mirrored those of the ACLU and many others. Huffman said he’s been working with the ACLU, law enforcement, criminal defense attorneys, big industries such as Boeing as well as farmers and ranchers – basically anyone with a stake or concern in the drone industry.
“It’s been painstaking and that’s why I think we’ve gotten as far as we are,” Huffman said. “I came up with the realization that the ideals of ACLU, tea party, industry, they really aren’t that far off as long as you approach it in a balanced manor.”
The goal is to prevent piecemeal legislation across the state by getting everyone on the same page and creating regulations that can be implemented statewide. That would mean if the law passes, counties and cities could not enact their own drone regulations.
“We’re trying to set a statewide policy so that we don’t have what’s going on in other communities and states,” Huffman said.
Huffman’s bill, HB 2710, passed out of the House Judiciary committee on Tuesday and he said he expects a positive floor vote. From there it will go to the Senate for more work. The legislation focuses more on how information collected from drones would be used as opposed to actual restriction of the use.
The goal is to appease privacy concerns while still making room for the advancing industry and keeping Oregon in the running to be chosen by the federal government as one of six drone testing sites in the nation.
“I have no desire to take away from the economic benefit and the job creation from the drone industry,” Huffman said. “I do want to make sure that people can expect the privacy they deserve.”
But drones are waking people up to fears that the United States is moving toward a surveillance society.
“I think they’ve captured peoples’ imaginations,” said Doug Honig with the ACLU of Washington state. “People can imagine all sorts of scenarios. It’s kind of crystallized for a lot of people broader concerns about encroaching government surveillance.”
Whether the trend to regulate and ensure privacy continues or the hunger for more jobs from a new technology and proposed better security prevails, remains to be seen.
“I think that really it could cut either way,” Roland said. “I hope that enough people are realizing the intrusion into our privacy and into our liberties.”
Contact Shelby Sebens at Shelby@NorthwestWatchdog.org
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