My 10-year-old recently asked me what exactly happened on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Rather than try to explain it, I searched YouTube and found a video of a newscast that relayed in real time the violence of that awful morning.
As I watched with my son, it occurred to me how much has changed since that day three months before he was born. Some changes are obvious: long security lines at airports and the (still-enduring) engagement in Afghanistan are impossible not to notice.
Other changes are more subtle and, perhaps, more significant. It’s amazing to think that there is only one video of the first airplane hitting the World Trade Center, taken from a tourist’s video camera. Today, one of the tens of thousands of security cameras that have been installed since 2001 would undoubtedly have captured the event from multiple angles.
These eyes in the sky — and on every street corner — are so ubiquitous that we’ve stopped noticing them. But take a walk down any city street or through any mall, and try to count how many you see. It may shock you. With the rise of the surveillance state that found its clearest expression in the Patriot Act, we’ve become desensitized to always being watched.
Above the cameras fly unmanned aerial vehicles — UAVs — or, as we all know them, drones. This is another technology whose proliferation has been aided by our national reaction to 9/11. The extent of their use is surprising, and recent Department of Justice memos reveal that the federal government has OK’d procedures allowing drones to attack U.S. citizens.
True, if you’re doing nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear from cameras or drones. But that’s not really the point. We are slowly, almost imperceptibly, becoming comfortable with the idea of being monitored around the clock — and, more slowly, we are becoming accustomed to the idea of robots in the sky with the ability to watch and — if told to do so — kill us.
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” The decade since 9/11 saw a bipartisan effort to increase security at the cost of freedom. It’s time to turn the tide back in freedom’s favor.
Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”