- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

It's bad enough that Big Brother is watching us Now, however, he's getting a helping hand from a private, and very-for-profit company Lockheed Martin IMS. Under a cooperative venture launched this week with the government of the District of Columbia, photo radar units supplied by those public-spirited folks at Lockheed Martin IMS have been snapping pictures of the license plates of "speeders" and sending them automated pieces of "payin' paper" up to $200 out of which Lockheed Martin IMS gets a cut of $29 smackers.

It's a nice racket, and one that Lockheed has helped get under way in several municipalities around the country. In the District, five squad cars armed with photo radar units will be shuffled among 60 "speed enforcement" zones several times per week. The manna will surely be raining down upon the city, as well as into the coffers of our friends at Lockheed Martin IMS.

Now, if you thumb through your intro political science textbook, you'll find that cooperation between Big Business and Big Government is the defining characteristic of a fascist state. See the trains running on time in the Italy of the Duce or the swift dealing by the thugs of the Gestapo with those who dared run afoul of the edicts of the regime in Hitler's Germany. Granted, the use of photo radar by the city is not equivalent in degree to the brutality of either of those regimes, but the operative principle is the same. And those who don't grasp that principles ideas matter, are in for a rude awakening. The Germans did not get a fuhrer overnight; it took time to condition them as any people to accepting the idea of an omnipotent state and the loss of their liberties in order to further some "greater good."

At a fundamental level, the use of technology for mass surveillance is disturbing because it is an affront to the bedrock principles of a free society. Catching "speeders" is beside the point a straw man set up by people who are either uninterested in the concept of civil liberties, or who do not grasp the significance of what they are advocating. We could catch more crooks, tax cheats, you name it, by conducting random stop-and-frisks or surprise inspections of our papers and effects. But is the apprehension of a few law-breakers worth the loss of our freedom to be left unscrutinized and unmolested by the state until and unless we have given proper cause to warrant such attention? The D.C. government apparently thinks the trade-off is worth it and having those extra shekels doesn't hurt, either.

As for Lockheed Martin IMS, well, what's a few civil liberties torn asunder in the name of a nice, fat and endlessly remunerative private-public "partnership"? The photo radar traps are expected to generate a staggering $11 million in fines this year alone representing about 80,000 tickets, or some 70,000 more than the Metropolitan Police Department issued on its own last year. The $12 million generated by the use of photo enforcement of red light running probably was more than enough to whet the appetite of Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer, an avid, unapologetic fan of the use of mass surveillance technology.

All of this is frightening on several levels, but perhaps most alarming is the seeming acquiescence of most area residents to the idea of Big Brother and Big Business as they team up to watch and fleece citizens. If this whole nasty business is not killed in its cradle, and the principle of mass surveillance is left unchallenged, not only can we expect more of the same we shall deserve it.

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