Paranoia Not Probable

Might as well get to the worst …

Here is a thing I would rather not be posting, since it might “compromise my credibility” – as they say.

Admittedly it is less of a problem now than previously. It refers to surveillance. At this point, with the Edward Snowden affair having been daily news for several weeks, the possibility of excessive snooping has gained a credibility of its own : fewer people, at this point, can deny snooping exists, and that there is a lot of it.

My own experience of excessive snooping has to do with the Taxi TV (another reason for wanting to publicize that gadget as the truly atrocious idea it really is.)

Since the first introduction of the TV, I have been struck by the curious timing of meter breakdowns. For a while it seemed to me that meter troubles developed according to a pattern. This pattern was : strenuous discussion between me and a passenger of the faults of Michael Bloomberg’s governance of the city  …  followed by meter breakdown. At first I assumed it was me, that I was imagining it all, and it was just a funny coincidence.

It persisted, however, and it was hard not to think the discussion was causing the breakdown.

After a month or more, there seemed to be an improvement. Long, even vociferous, discussions were not followed by, and even interrupted by, a meter shutdown. I was ready to admit to paranoia – it had all been a mistake …

No, not really. While the meter had originally “reacted” (seemingly) as the discussion between me and the passenger was in progress, or when the trip was over and the machine was supposed to accept payment, the meter mishap was offset by 20 or 25 minutes. I.e., it happened after the passenger got out – a fairly good time after.

Not hard to find a “paranoid” explanation for that : when the meter failed while the passenger was in the car, there was a danger that the passenger would notice, and draw the same conclusion anyone would draw – that the critical comments about the mayor had caused the mishap. (I had even pointed the timing out several times to passengers, all of whom found the suggestion of foul play very interesting.)

Now, with the meter mess delayed by 20 minutes, there was no anti-Bloomberg discussion taking place as the meter failed, and no suspicion on the part of a passenger likely to arise.

Now, we’re all used to the phrase, “This phone call will be monitored, in order to ensure quality control.” We assume that surveilling service representatives is done, and that it’s acceptable. Question : why wouldn’t “the powers that be” do the same with cab drivers? It seems to me likely they would – and, with the growing sense of the pervasiveness of spying and snooping, I see no reason why there should be a great deal of skepticism about such a claim.

Since my experience of this problem first arose, in the first few weeks after the installation of the TV, the same scenario has presented itself to me many hundreds of times, maybe a thousand or more.  It’s inescapable. It happens over and over – it happened twice last night, as a matter of fact …

I will get to my ultimate point as quickly as possible.

When spying is accepted as a normal part of life, those who practice it are emboldened to go way beyond any acceptable limits with it – it is as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning that they will do so.

Remember, I am not complaining about having a lesson in bomb-building being interrupted by a bad meter. My discussions with passengers never involve conspiracies against government, criminal activities, racism, homophobia, plots, threats and the rest : these are serious discussions of whether the governance that Micheal Bloomberg and his people have brought to New York is of an acceptably high quality.

So what’s the matter with that?

In this case you have, it can be said, an example of the sort of snooping and surveillance that is justified as fighting crime or countering terrorism being used to protect an elected official from criticism.

How delightful! Freedom speech rescinded, because it makes Mike Bloomberg look bad!

He doesn’t want to be criticized! How like Muammar Gaddafi!

Where the carte blanche so willingly granted to snoops has gone in New York City is in the predictable direction : it has made it far easier to deny people elementary rights, and that is exactly what has happened here, if my perpetually reinforced suspicions are correct. The man in charge doesn’t want to be criticized, or even mentioned in unflattering terms, so, in order to keep that from happening, an electric trick takes place whenever that does take place : the meter, without which a driver can’t get paid – at least in the case of credit cards – cuts out, and the speaker is penalized immediately for his unacceptable speech by being denied payment for services rendered. Instantaneous punishment! What a dream for the dictatorial! The Soviet Union never had instruments like this. But, God, how they would have loved to have them!

But, to repeat : if you put the technology in their hands, they will eventually use it, and for the most self-serving of purposes.

 

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