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(Random Thoughts): On Increased Government Surveillance

May 18

You’ve likely noticed the increase in CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras in your community. Moreover, the government engages in some type of surveillance of our emails, telephone calls, text messages, and our activity on the “web”. Recently, Toronto PD announced that a number of its’ members would be “on duty” carrying CCTV cameras as part of a “research” project. Is it unusual that so many of us feel that there is so little private space in our lives anymore? Have you ever wondered whether the increase in surveillance actually makes you more safe? Is the loss of privacy actually rewarded with an increase in safety? How do we balance the two?

Closed circuit television has two objectives; deterrence and detection. The cameras record activity in a particular location to gather evidence that may be used by police investigators should a crime be committed. The deterrent effect has more to do with preventing crime. The thinking being, why would anyone commit a crime if he\she knew it would be captured on CCTV. The very attractive notion that CCTV is an effective deterrent of crime is not well established in the literature. (Didn’t we just watch, on the evening news, a woman stuffing racquet ball racquets down her pants while staring directly into a CCTV camera?) Dissenters suggest that bright street lights are equally effective; but isn’t that just another way of increasing visibility, and similar to CCTV.

Think about it for a moment. You likely have committed “crimes” because you thought you could get away with it. They might not have been the equivalent of a “Brinks Job”, but haven’t you parked in a “disabled zone” or used an “access road” on the highway as a short cut to get yourself turned around? If there was a police person standing in the handicapped spot would you still have parked there? Probably not. However police services don’t have enough money in their budgets to put a member in every parking spot and at every access road; and as soon as there is no member there, guess what? However, just the thought that there might be a police presence in the area is enough to deter most motorists. The bottom line is fascinating!! The possible presence of a police person is, at the very least, as good a deterrent, and in some cases even better, than the actual presence of a police member. This makes sense, as if there is always a police presence at the scene and on one occasion there isn’t, it will have no deterrent effect. A “money-strapped” city hall might use a “beat-cop” to act as a deterrent in several spots as the police person doesn’t have to be seen at any one of the locations to still have an effect. Catch this!! The work of philosopher Jeremy Bentham is absolutely fascinating. Have you ever heard of the “panopticon”? It’s a prison designed as a circle, with all the cells facing inward toward a central observation point. The guards sit in the centre of the panopticon with a view of the interior of each cell facing them (through a one way glass); and the inmates are unable to see if there are any staff in the observation tower. Bentham’s thinking was that the inmates could never be sure whether they were being observed or not, so would always be on their best behaviour; just in case! The take away being the effect of a potential guard can be as powerful as if there was a real guard present.

I’ve never forgotten Bentham’s words in describing the panopticon as a way of “obtaining mind over mind”. Now don’t get the wrong idea about J.B; he was not likely to be a supporter of our Conservatives. He was more like a 1700’s version of a Tom Mulcair supporter. He was all about individualism, freedom of expression, abolition of slavery and the death penalty, the right to divorce, and the decriminalization of homosexuality……light years ahead of our Steve, no? He simply viewed his panopticon as a tool for “grinding rogues honest”. The structure was an early form of behaviour modification (therapy?).

So the question begs to be asked (in regard to “esteemed leader” and his evil twin), can you grind a rogue honest? Think about it, the rogues incarcerated in the panopticon might behave better, but is it “real change”? Could it be that they know they are under scrutiny and fear being punished if observed misbehaving? This isn’t really as much about changing morals as it is commanding obedience. Yes I know there are some who would argue that if a person always does the right thing, that behaviour becomes the new norm; it becomes rooted and automatic.

I suppose if you were content with a nation of robotic law abiding citizens this sort of automatic behaviour would make you happy. But in contrast to obeying the law, just because it is the law, what about the merits of wanting to obey the law; the idea of wanting to be a good and moral person.

Thoughtless moral obedience does not make a moral person. Nor does thoughtless compliant behaviour (under the gaze of CCTV) make a moral RCMP member. It might be that constant unthinking obedience and fear of consequences could be a bad thing? It could stunt your moral growth; you could become “morally flabby” as you miss the opportunity to exercise your own judgement, reflect on your own behaviour, challenge your own actions, and the norms of the community you live in. There are limited ways for you to do this in a legal and safe fashion. This is one of the places of the labour union. Here’s where the MPPAC could actually play a role in your moral development.

Do you remember the name Edward Snowden? OK, OK, breathe deeply you’ll be alright. In and around 2013 he revealed wide range government surveillance of ordinary people in places like the USA, the UK, and Israel. His revelations snowballed and reached unprecedented levels that soon included his own country (US) spying on major world political figures from the Pope to the German Chancellor.

The case of Edward Snowden brought a long simmering issue to a boil. In the business of increased surveillance, who holds the trump cards, privacy or security? On the security side, for example, the present day Canadian Government, who seems to enjoy the ever increasing observation of us, argues that if we have nothing to hide we should have no objection to being observed. On the other side of the of the issue, those who object to being observed assert their right to privacy.

So can increased surveillance be justified; even the increase of RCMP members on “the hill” and Toronto’s roll out of CCTV cameras? There is always going to be the worry of the security and accuracy of the information as the data accumulates from these sources. Logic would suggest that the more there is of it, the more susceptible it will be to misuse. It seems that our Prime Minister and his various agencies hold all the cards. But is that true? Are we not still a democracy? Doesn’t the Prime Minister, his Chief of Police, and all elected officials, serve at the pleasure of the public? Don’t the authorities still have to retain our trust to remain in power? Yet another place for a police association.

When “the people” examine the government’s push for more and more powers of surveillance, they will question who is being protected. The people will tolerate more surveillance only if they believe it is for their own protection. Did you hear this from Mr. Harper and his minions around Bill C-42? Were we not all of a sudden surrounded by “Jihadists”? The citizens of the USA and the UK also gave up increased individual freedoms (which they are now questioning) believing that their investment in increased levels of security would profit the general public. Did you ever fantasize a wee bit and consider all these increases in power and security were really intended to protect the government? I know, I know it’s way out there…..but I’m just saying? Now you’re going to think I’m a complete “whack job”…..or, to protect certain individuals in the government?

Have you ever wondered when or if that time comes, what you would do? Will you object to the invasion of your privacy then? Will it be too late? How far are you willing to go? Where will you draw the line between benefit and the loss of privacy?

In this brief piece, we haven’t even looked at the interface between security and the role of technology in the surveillance of private communications. Have you ever attended a “private security” trade show? If you have, did it ever cross your mind how the line between private “police” and professional (government) police has become blurred? Have you ever taken the time to inform yourself on the speed with which private policing is overtaking professional policing in Europe and the US? Can Canada be far behind?

I hope this brief and inadequate offering has served to stimulate questions. Even more so, to cause you to see yet another way that the MPPAC could serve you and the public you protect. I may be a dreamer but there was a time (I grew up on the East Side of Vancouver) when a particular VPD member impressed me as being able to care more about my future than his own……in part, because the latter was secured by a union). Later on in life we met again. He was refereeing the wrestling matches that “Iron Mike” was using to pay for a Doctorate in Psychology. I made it R.M., thanks for the chance, R.I.P. buddy!

“The Secret Is, There Is No Secret!”

Dr. Mike Webster
Reg’d Psych.


From → Other

  1. saumik901029 permalink

    In a sense we have CCTV in every Detachment in Canada today as we have to watch what we say or do on a daily basis. We are not allowed to have any discussions in our workplace about the MPPAC, posters about town hall meetings are being ripped down by Management and a new Police Act that has tightened the Harper Gag Order on all of us!
    Maybe I am just being paranoid here but if “we” the Police are starting to feel uneasy about our rights being violated in the our own work place, how is the general public feeling about their privacy rights being violated by these CCTV’s?
    I wonder if the Canadian scientists are feeling the same way as we are in the RCMP today? The only way to combat the Harputin’s and Paulsonov’s iron fists is to get out and vote in the upcoming Federal Election and make sure the junior members of the RCMP are informed and aware of what is happening to our organization and exercise their rights to support the MPPAC.

    • Jan Slakov permalink

      Good plan, to vote and encourage others to vote too. Elizabeth May says we should have a buddy system, where people who plan to vote invite others who might not get around to it to go with them – to the advance polls (or even well ahead of the election at one of over 400 Elections Canada offices across the country). See for more info on registering, voting, etc.

    • janslakov permalink

      Glad to see your support for encouraging people to vote. Elizabeth May suggests we have a “buddy system” so that when we go to vote, we pledge to find someone who might not have voted to go with us – probably to an advance poll or even way early, to the returning officer in one of over 400 Elections Canada offices across the country. More information at or .

  2. Nothing is new under the sun; Reminds me of some Bible stories where the wicked Kings & church leaders wanted to silence the ones sent with truth and they used every means at their disposal to silence the messengers up to and even murdering children & prophets, sent to help.

    Courage in the face of treats & fears is the only way to climb over those dangerous mountains, solders which one will you choose? Courage to do what is right or fear for doing so?

    If you look at the message outside of you, you will fold even if you are right.

    Its all just a choice and those choices you make today will effect your life & the lives of others in the future, choose wisely and don’t let a corrupt system trying to hide behind laws dictate your choices in the face of truth.



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