ESSAY- I spy: Why I gave up my American freedoms

Better than a potty-cam, right?

Oh, no– another one, gone over to the dark side." That's what my friend, Hank, said recently as I flaunted my new, high-tech toy. Hank's exasperated, and who could blame him?

For years, I've been spouting off about intrusions into our privacy. I've sneered at people who succumb to the convenience of E-ZPass, because in exchange for the ability to breeze through tollbooths, they're enabling the police to track their every move.

And isn't it bad enough that the Bush administration stripped away our Fourth Amendment right to unreasonable searches and seizures– sifting through our email and phone conversations– must we make it easy for Big Brother by signing up for total surveillance of our grocery purchases in exchange for saving a few bucks at the checkout when they swipe that discount card? 

Don't get me started about OnStar and their melodramatic commercials. As if it's worth having a corporation track your every automotive move– just because you never know when your car will run into a tree. "Idiots. Infantile idiots," is what I've been muttering back to my radio for years now.

As I have observed my fellow Americans skipping down this garden path toward total loss of privacy, I have been known to blurt out this charming, modest proposal:

Okay, then, how about a toilet cam? How'd you like that? Right inside your toilet bowl, monitoring your activities? And while we're at it, let's also install a body-chemistry sensor in the toilet of every American to detect metabolites of illegal drugs.

Because if you're not doing anything wrong, why would you object to surveillance?  

This nifty sensor would also alert authorities to the early signs of diabetes and colorectal cancer. For your own safety and convenience– your life could depend on it– don't object when Big Brother installs your toilet cam.

Oh, I've had a lot to say about the erosion of privacy in the U.S. of A.

And then, January 20, 2009 dawned, and Barack Obama took the helm. The good guys were in charge again. 

A few weeks later, I heard an OnStar commercial, as if for the first time. Hmm... There's a head-on collision, and a voice emanates from your dashboard assuring you that help is on the way? Sweet!

  I haven't taken the OnStar plunge, but I just bought a device that not only makes my choice of reading matter totally transparent– right down to the notes I type into it and what passages I choose to highlight– it gives the corporation that sold it to me the ability, if not the right, to reach into my device from afar and delete books that I've already bought.

This devilish machine is the e-reader known as Kindle, and the Big Brother corporation to which I have surrendered my privacy and, some would say, good sense, is Amazon. 

Just last month, when it came to their attention that MobilReference, a digital publisher, was selling copies of 1984, to which the publisher did not have the rights, not only did Amazon stop selling the digital files from their website, they also performed a digital search and seizure, reaching into all participating Kindle e-readers and snatching up everyone's copy of the book.

So, the shouts of "Son of a B*TCH!" that you may have heard back on July 17th, came from your neighbors who were in the middle of 1984– most likely, teenagers who were assigned to read it during summer vacation– who watched George Orwell's cautionary tale about a totalitarian future disappear, in an instant, from their Kindles.

And it was with full knowledge of this intrusive, outrageous situation that I caved in to the siren seduction of the Kindle. 

Oh, it is wicked cool, my Kindle. The screen looks like a paper page, not backlit like a computer screen, and it's easy on the eyes. In this sleek little gizmo I have, literally, at my fingertips, the complete works of Shakespeare, Dante, Twain, and Ovid. I have The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, plus assorted modern novels, self-help books, and a dictionary. It is a pleasure to curl up with this thing and get lost in the text.

And you know what? I just discovered that a woman in Australia recently became trapped in her bathroom, with one foot stuck on either side of her toilet bowl. The poor thing was wedged between the hopper and the inward-opening door and there she remained for a week. A week!  So, my toilet-cam idea is starting to look pretty good, too. Think of it as OnStar for your potty.

Alas, Hank got it right: I have crossed over to the dark side. And there are so many of us over here who have been seduced by the coddling of intrusive technology that our new national motto could be, "Give me convenience, or give me death." 

(That "Son of a B*TCH" you just heard was Patrick Henry, moaning in his grave.)


You can surveilJanis Jaquith in Free Union.