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Thistles & Roses

Big Brother is Watching!


Most people know that metaphor means the government has you under surveillance, mostly without your knowing.

Many may not know where the term originated. It came from the 1949 George Orwell novel “1984.”

When Orwell wrote it, the year 1984 was very much in the future. In the novel, posters were displayed in Oceania, the fictional country, that said “Big Brother is Watching You.” People did not have freedom and the government was constantly spying on its people.

 I read it in the 60s and it had a chilling effect on me.

Forty years after it was written, Orwell’s premonition is becoming reality in ways that many people may not know.

Face recognition technology and license plate readers are some of the latest technology used by the government to “watch” you.

Last year, for the first time when I traveled on an international flight, there were notices posted in the hallways of immigration control that a modern technology was going to revolutionize and streamline the passport process.

Before I departed for London, my photo was taken. When I returned a couple of weeks later, I lined up with my passport, ready to show it as I have done many times before. The officer told me to stand on a  spot and look at the camera. Then he asked “Richard?” I said that I was. Then he said, Welcome Back!”

I never had to show the passport. I have made a few trips since then, and never had to show my passport.

Very quick and very easy. But I am not sure how I feel about that.

In preparing some of my criminal cases, I have learned some things that exist that I did not know. On the interstate highways, there are license plate readers installed on the highways, I think, every two and a half miles, recording every plate. Law enforcement can look out for vehicles subject to an investigation.

But, they are also recording all of our movements. I think they can probably calculate your rate of speed by timing when you pass these readers.

Many law enforcement vehicles have license plate readers in their patrol cars. It gives them a lot of information about you, including if your insurance is up to date. They know if you have insurance without having to ask for proof, although the law still requires that you carry proof of insurance. 

When  a person is missing or a crime has been committed, pings from cellphone towers can pinpoint locations. Some criminals turn off their cellphones during a crime, but when they are turned back on, the pings still help investigations that often fit a timeline of a crime and its location.

There is so much data on cellphones, they are a goldmine for law enforcement when a crime is investigated. Records of texts, social media postings, and photos contain a lot of private information that some people thought could not be obtained. There are some privacy rights for cellphones, but warrants are easily obtained. Even the most encrypted information can be found with the right technician.

CCCTV and surveillance cameras are ubiquitous. Many crimes are recorded on doorbell cameras.

The city of Fort Worth has installed video cameras on many of their city streets. Police can track the movements of suspects quite easily.

There seems no end to what information can be obtained on computers. 

Really, we don’t have much privacy today. I don’t think that there is much we can do about it.

Big Brother and his siblings are constantly watching us.


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