“Gunshot Detection Systems (GDS)” – Widespread audio surveillance is now among us

surveillance-cameraIt’s a comment on modern reality that we are all getting used to the sight of video surveillance cameras in virtually every public space. It’s a well-worn clich√© to comment on “Big Brother” but there’s nothing hyperbolic about it, we are there and we have essentially moved into a post-privacy world where every movement we make is likely being monitored and watched by someone, somewhere. We can debate the value of this trade off between security and privacy, but we cannot deny that we’ve made the bargain.

And now you can add audio surveillance to the mix. The newest technology being added, ostensibly for “crime-fighting” purposes, is called “Gunshot Detection Systems” and it involves the placement of a lot of microphones all around us so that in the event someone, somewhere might shoot off a gun, listeners will be able to triangulate the source of the gunshot and locate the shooter, who is presumably someone doing something wrong. But as is clear from users of the technology, the system not only picks up gunshots, it hears the sounds we make and the words we speak. Big Brother got some powerful ears.

If you’re a gun rights advocate, you will probably not like hearing that every gunshot you fire will now be known to the government. If you are anti gun, you may find this system appealing, but keep in mind that a government that spends its time and money watching everything we do and listening to everything we say on the off chance that we might be doing something illegal, is a government that is NOT governing at all. This is almost the definition of a police state, and it is one of the final steps in the complete transformation of our culture from one that is endowed with “inalienable” rights that include privacy from unreasonable governmental intrusion, into one in which the “unreasonableness” becomes linked to any desire for privacy. Somewhere, things got reversed, and our very liberty, our freedom to be private, has been sacrificed.

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Anyone who gives up their liberty for a little security, deserves neither”. There are good reasons our Founding Fathers felt this way and attempted to limit the government’s ability to monitor us. It’s not like they weren’t aware of crime, crime has always existed. But even then they were able to articulate and write into the Constitution a need for “probable cause” as a pre-requisite for governmental searches; they would not have been ok with “Gunshot Detection Systems” or ubiquitous video surveillance. The “reasonable expectation of privacy” has now apparently been replaced by a “reasonable expectation of criminality”

Read more about the debate here.

– RP