When I was 10 or 11, the 16-year-old boy next door would sit pressed up against the fence between our properties, listening to my friends and me talk. During backyard campouts our conversations often turned to sex, as we shared misinformation and bad jokes in hopes of understanding that mysterious adult something we were beginning to feel in our bodies.
Though we whispered, evidently we didn’t whisper quietly enough because Roger would sit there on the other side of the fence for hours, doing we did not know what, though it involved occasional grunts and groans. Even when we were talking more innocuous little-girl talk, there was Roger with his ear pressed against the splintery redwood.
Everybody, including our parents I’m sure, knew Roger was lurking and listening (though Roger himself was apparently under the impression he was being super-stealthy).
No one ever called the police or confronted Roger or his parents because everybody understood that — creepy though his hobby was — he was within his legal rights.
As it turned out, there were other, related reasons somebody should have called the cops on Roger. But the little girls involved in those incidents said not a word to any adult for fear of either not being believed or being believed but also being blamed.
His fence-hugging, though perfectly legal and not actionable in a free country, was a sign of the darker things.
In Roger’s case, the fates took care of the matter shortly thereafter by delivering him a debilitating autoimmune disease, no outside punishment needed. It was one of the few times in all my years that I’ve actually witnessed such satisfying karmic payback. Maybe the disease was caused by redwood toxins from all those splinters his ears must have been pierced with. Who knows? But my adolescent self found it sweet.
Yesterday’s post about Google Street View creeping and peeping and gathering heaven knows what data on my otherwise obscure road raised some interesting discussion about whether or not a right to privacy exists.
Some people I respect took the position that there are no such things as privacy rights because (I condense and paraphrase) enforcing such rights would require prior restraint on others for non-violent activities.
Other people I respect took the position that all this poking and prodding into our lives by everybody from Google to the NSA (but I repeat myself), from Doubleclick to the TSA is disgusting, invasive, anti-freedom, nearly impossible to combat, and just plain rude (thanks, Pat). Oh yes, privacy is a right, they said. And one that … erm, Hannibal Lecter would have known how to enforce.
As usual, I’m glad to leave theories up in the ivory tower. All I know is that being left the hell alone is an essential of freedom and that anybody — or any corporate body — that feels driven to snoop, poke, prod, eavesdrop, and get an earful of electronic splinters by inserting him, her, or itself into the lives of harmless others is as creepy as Roger-over-the-fence.
And like Roger, these professional peepers and creepers may be within their legal rights, but they are nevertheless up to no damn good, and the public aspect of their snoopery is just the annoying-but-bland face on something deeper, darker, and truly evil.
One thing — not the only thing, but one very big thing — that makes our forced participation in Google Street View, NSA wiretapping, etc. evil is the drastic imbalance of power between the snoopers and the snoopees, the creepers and we the people who are being creeped upon and creeped out.
A few random examples:
* The NSA snoops on anybody it wants without consequences, but try snooping on the NSA and see what you get (I’m talking to you, Mssrs Snowden and Greenwald).
* We’re watched by surveillance cameras on every street corner, but try filming a cop with your cellphone camera and whoo, boy!
* Business executives and government officials demand our social security numbers, home addresses, and other sensitive information as the price of dealing with them. But do they give us their personal information in return? Hardly. People have been prosecuted for getting that.
* Google grabs any information it wishes (and is technologically capable of gathering) from us without our consent or an offer to share the profits it makes off us. But how much information does Google “allow” us to have about it?
* TSA agents can rub their hands of blue on our labia, breasts, or testicles. But lay one tiny finger on any part of their sacred selves, even a shoulder, and … federal crime!
* Google, local law enforcement, satellite mapping companies and anybody else who wants to take cameras to our houses, cars, and backyards. No warrants, no permissions required. We’re sometimes “allowed” to look at those pictures. But try to take your own photo of a government-owned bridge, office building, gasworks, reservoir, or whatever and you’re likely to be reported, manhandled, and even charged with “terrorism.”
Do I really have to go on?
What we have here is Roger on the other side of the fence. Prurient. Deviant. Disrespectful of privacy. Crude. Dumb. Insatiable. And uber-uber-uber creepy.
But it’s a version of Roger that has mutated. A version of Roger that makes the old science-fictional 50-foot tall woman look cockroach-sized by comparison. It’s Roger writ so large that we can’t even see his hideously ugly dimensions, even as we hear him grunting and groaning at us.
And if this giant techno-Roger has his way, we never will perceive just how large and ugly he is.
Techno-Roger possesses the technological tools, the political power, the money, the thuggery, and just about everything else he needs to enforce his “right” to spy on us against our right to try to live our lives unmolested.
Is Techno-Roger within his legal rights? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. But what does it matter? What’re you gonna do? Call the cops?
Our only hope lies in the fact that Techno-Roger, like the small, pudgy human Roger who played peeping Tom way back when, really is dumb. All corporate bodies are essentially stupid because, like some dinosaurs, their brains are too small to control their giant, sprawling selves. And surveillance-state bodies, in their desperate desire to know (and ultimately control) everything about everybody get dumber and dumber and dumber the more data they gather.
But it takes a long time for their own stupidity to destroy them. And in the meantime, of course, the imbalance of power wreaks all its havoc on us.
So privacy rights or no privacy rights, what’s going on is foul, evil, and outrageously destructive to liberty. It is the corporate state against the individual. It is us as targets and property, them as masters.
They will not get away with it in the long term. But in the short term we’re at the mercy of a vast pack of deviant peeping creepazoids who aren’t even fit to be neighbors, let alone controllers of all the world’s information.