The City of Federal Way: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, 1984=2009?

Is the city of Federal Way an Orwellian state?

Is the city of Federal Way an Orwellian state?

Of all places in America, Federal Way, Washington can now add itself to an increasingly growing list of scary places to live. Scary in what sense? Crime is not that high. Traffic accidents happen here no less frequently than anywhere else. The murder rate seems comparable to other cities in Western Washington. What can be so scary?

How about “Safe City,” a program conducted by the Federal Way Police Department where 27 remote controlled are installed in trouble spots around the city to catch criminals in action? This is a fairly new program where every second of the day is recorded and monitored by volunteers who are trained to spot suspicious activity. Wait, volunteers? You mean my grandmother could be the one catching bad guys in the middle of committing a crime? That’s right, Virginia.

These cameras keep records of what it sees for up to seven days, until it is erased permanently. The police department claims the cameras are located in spots where the public eye can see. Just imagine there being 27 vigilant police officers present at these spots at all times. The police made sure no private property or businesses are being spied upon, just public areas where crimes are usually committed. It is assumed that private businesses have their own security systems, so using public ones should not be necessary.

The idea behind “Safe City” is to reduce crime by making the cameras a deterrent. No criminal would dare rob a person or assault them when they know Johnny Law (or at the very least, a surrogate for Johnny Law) is watching them ever so closely. One of the places where a camera is located is Federal Way Transit Center, where people are constantly hanging out. Apparently, it is a breeding ground for criminal behavior, which explains why the city invested approximately $285,000 (some money coming a grant by the Target Corporation) to install these cameras all around the city.

Civil liberties organizations, including the Washington chapter of the ACLU, are furious about these new developments. Supporters claim more than 20 communities across the country (though Federal Way is the first in the Pacific Northwest) use this system and they have had no problems. In fact, the benefits reaped by this new system should outweigh any “Big Brother” worries people might have. After all, what’s the point of worrying about people spying on you when they’re really looking out for your best interests? Sounds logical to the people in the police department.

But not to me. I am not alone in looking at this “Safe City” program as one step toward creating a “surveillance society” where the government can see every action we make outside our homes. The government cannot peer into our private lives, thank God. Oh wait, they can. Recall Bush’s illegal wiretapping program he authorized shortly after 9/11. Big Brother is listening to our phone conversations in order to protect us from the terrorists. Don’t you love the Patriot Act?

In this case, while Federal Way is definitely smaller than the entire United States, the situation is no different. Whether it be terrorism or petty crime, the excuses are the same. The scapegoats for increasing government/police surveillance all have to do with making us safer. Safer from al Qaeda, safer from crooks. Same thing. Security is a great way to get people to agree to more governmental intervention in our lives. To a lesser extent, we are now seeing President Obama continuing many of the Bush “War on Terror” policies in the name of not looking wimpy on national security. Change we can believe in? Maybe not. Perhaps we should blame those pesky Republicans. But really, that is a whole other can of worms.

For now, it is disturbing to see the changes the city of Federal Way is making to deter crime. What proof do we have that this expensive system will catch more bad guys? I guess we will have to wait and see. I do not like the implications and precedents that “Safe City” sets. George Orwell’s famous 1949 novel “1984” tells of a futuristic society where the government, dubbed “Big Brother,” has completely taken control of every facet of people’s lives. They tell people how to think, how to act, and how to feel. Conspiracy theorists throughout the ages have referenced Orwell’s classic work whenever they speak out against any government regulations that resemble the policies carried out in the book. I am unapologetically doing likewise.

How far must authorities go to protect us from crime? What people in Federal Way should be concerned about is not this particular program per se, but the implications of such a system. In England and Scotland, almost every public street corner is under the careful surveillance of a camera device. The police in England don’t carry firearms because they are so confident that criminals will be deterred not to commit crimes in public. Supporters say this system works and proves to reduce the crime rate. Critics like myself don’t argue against the practicality of the system, but the legal and social precedents it sets.

What other measures can the police take to reduce crime? Can they wiretap our phones without a judge’s permission? Can they keep track of every credit card purchase we make and every book we check out at the library? The possibilities are endless.

Maybe I’m being paranoid. I probably am. But even deeper is the issue of morality: is it right to scare people into following the law? Deterrents are meant to stop people from doing bad things. But is such a system really getting to the root of a problem?

Americans use and abuse illegal drugs more than anyone else on earth. Despite harsh legal punishments for dealing, possessing, and using illegal narcotics, people still use them nevertheless. Drug users don’t always consider the legal consequences before deciding to use. Likewise, who is to say that criminals will stop mugging and robbing people just because a few cameras are set up that can capture their faces on film? One can assume this system will work, but are you really solving the cause of the problem, or the symptom?

That $285,000 can be spent on other endeavors, like addressing homelessness, poverty, and unemployment. It’s not enough money to fully address those problems, but it’s a start. Besides, how should we feel about ordinary citizens being the ones monitoring these cameras instead of trained police officers? When citizens are the ones distributing justice, how far down this dangerous slippery slope can we go before matters get out of hand?

Maybe this system will be nothing but another way for cops to monitor crime. If this is the case and the buck stops here, fine. I see no problem with a few cameras being put up in places where statistically more crimes are committed. But if this sets a precedent that more places can be open to camera surveillance, regardless of its tendency toward crime, then Houston, we have a problem.

But that all remains to be seen. We are no where close to living in an Orwellian society, regardless of laws like the Patriot Act or technological systems like “Safe City.” Federal Way, of all places, is no where close to resembling current Big Brother societies like the People’s Republic of China or the Soviet Union during its past existence. What really needs to happen is for ordinary citizens like us to keep on the lookout for any future encroachments made by the government or law enforcement on privacy and civil liberties.

Nothing too dangerous is happening yet, but one can never know. In a democracy like ours, it is essential that the people be vigilant toward the government in order to prevent tyranny from oppressing our rights. People who do that for a living are called journalists. But in this age of the Internet, social networking, and mass media, we are all responsible. So, in short, do your duty and watch out. You may have to save yourself before anyone else will.

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One Comment on “The City of Federal Way: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, 1984=2009?”

  1. Myrtle Swartz Says:

    Federal Way Police Department did nothing when Brian Barton went missing. They said they did a lot to find Brian but they screwed up the investigation so bad. I wish someone would look into that. I would not give you two cents for that police department! I feel sorry for anyone that lives in the Federal Way area.


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