Virgil Swing: Big Brother in Duluth a good idea

A UMD student heading home on Lakewalk was brutally beaten by hoodlums in May, so who could object when Duluth city councilors voted to add 25 new surveillance cameras in that area?...

A UMD student heading home on Lakewalk was brutally beaten by hoodlums in May, so who could object when Duluth city councilors voted to add 25 new surveillance cameras in that area?

The Korean War memorial along Lakewalk was damaged by idiotic vandals earlier this month, so who could complain about using private money for cameras near the memorial and the nearby memorial for Vietnam veterans?

Some of the 150 public cameras in Minneapolis are linked to audio technology and have helped police arrest two murder suspects last month. Who could object to such technology?

And, of course, cameras are stationed at various spots along I-35 in Duluth and on some city streets. Why shouldn't public safety officials monitor what happens on public streets? And why shouldn't red-light runners face tickets even if a cop wasn't around to see them?

But when do we start to object as such cameras are added on a regular basis, even as government offices (including ones in Duluth) join many businesses that tape the movements of customers?


Do we object when Google makes the world available for us to see on its satellite images or its Street View service?

Perhaps we should object if the Obama administration persuades Congress to make it easier for the feds to eavesdrop on Internet conversations now that so many "bad guys" use it rather than telephones to communicate.

Or maybe we should object if the new web code, HTML5, lets companies and the government track which websites we visit and e-mails we send.

Yes, I know some of this already goes on, but I worry where it might lead.

We should worry that the director of the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security tracked groups that opposed natural-gas drilling, held candlelight vigils against oil giant BP or who gathered to support gays and lesbians and sent reports on them to law-enforcement officials.

The Pennsylvania governor objected and the man resigned. But is he the only one doing this?

In September, the FBI raided homes and offices of antiwar activists in Minneapolis and Chicago, but no one was arrested -- were these really terrorists?

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar has apparently dropped or delayed action on a proposal to require new cars to be equipped with GPS equipment to track how many miles the car is driven and on which highways. It was pushed as a revenue enhancer but could tell the feds a lot about our activities. Should we worry whether this plan will show up again after the election?


As I said in earlier columns on this topic, many of us support some of this surveillance, since we're more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator of street crime.

But the ever-increasing examination of where we go and what we do can go too far. To get one sense of this, read George Orwell's dystopian novel "1984," home of the now-ubiquitous term "Big Brother."

Readers should talk about this issue over the dinner table, in public meetings, at restaurants and bars -- or anywhere else they discuss public issues. If you agree with me that our society is heading in a direction that could be dangerous to our freedoms, especially if the wrong people end up calling the shots, let your elected officials know where you would draw the line.


In another matter, Duluth voters should say no to the Plan B referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot.

I probably dislike the district's Red Plan as much as anyone -- well, anyone outside of Harry Welty, Art Johnston and Gary Glass -- but it's too late to stop that costly boondoggle. Many school board members stood stubbornly in the face of widespread public opposition to the plan, and a majority of its projects are completed or well underway.

A vote for Plan B wouldn't be binding to the board, but it's not a good idea to establish a precedent in which elective bodies ignore a vote of the people.

Plan B doesn't make sense anymore. Vote no.


Budgeteer opinion columnist Virgil Swing has been writing about Duluth for many years. Contact him at .

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