Let’s Move Security into the Home!
Graham E. Fuller (grahamefuller.com)
5 March 2016
The FBI and Apple are wrestling over the rights of police access to private phones. Well and good. But there is a much more urgent issue: why are our intelligence and security organizations being hindered from taking national security to a higher and more effective level—into the home?
Given the vulnerability of today’s hi-tech world and the ability of only a handful of individuals to wreak havoc, disrupt society, sow crime—even to kill, the home is a vital untapped source of security intelligence. It represents the last serious gap in our security dike that urgently requires plugging.
Let’s not mince words: It is high time to initiate a broad national program that would install video cameras and microphones inside all private homes throughout the country.
Coverage of all homes is imperative, first because no house can remain above suspicion. Second, such all-inclusive coverage deflects the potential accusation that particular ethnic, political, religious or gender groups are being profiled.
Why private homes? Because they represent the last major redoubt of unsecured space, a venue in which violence (including domestic), and criminal and terrorist acts can be planned, quite out of reach of present communications monitoring. As such, homes represent a key source of national vulnerability. What good is mere cell phone monitoring when direct face-to-face meetings for illicit purposes within the home remain off limits to security and intelligence services?
The reality is that such security monitoring in the end requires camera and microphone coverage of all rooms in the home. While such comprehensive monitoring might initially seem excessively intrusive, on reflection its logic is irrefutable. First, the vast majority of citizens who are not engaged in planning crimes, terrorist acts, or propagating disloyal ideas have nothing to fear. The content of these monitoring devices would be safely stored in remote locations; it would never be accessed by security officials in the absence of any information that casts doubt upon the innocence or loyalty of a residence or person in question.
Second, the mere existence of such monitoring devices in the home would have a deterrent effect on potential perpetrators who would then be deprived of these safe havens that they once exploited. Women in particular should welcome the fact that such surveillance would likely delimit domestic violence with electronic evidence permanently available to back up potential plaintiffs’ charges.
The vast majority of American citizens who have nothing to hide could go about their daily lives confident that such monitoring was irrelevant to their own activities; indeed, they would probably be comforted in the knowledge that any neighbor engaged in nefarious activity would certainly be on camera.
Some otherwise loyal citizens might be concerned about certain privacy issues when it comes to things like cameras in the bedroom. But let’s be honest here: in our present age, whatever unfolds in most bedrooms falls far short of the explicit and prurient images now available to us all on porn websites. There is little than any of us have not already seen in brazen close-up detail on-line that should cause us concern about coverage of our modest, non-color, non-professional activities in our bedroom. Security officials would thus have little incentive to illegally view them either. From a realistic security perspective most citizens will quickly recognize that ruling out bedroom coverage would simply provide an impermissable “safe room” to exist within the house to be exploited by those of ill intent. (Indeed, there might be some who find the presence of a permanent camera in their bedroom titillating and would pose no objection.)
Indeed, standards and expectations of modesty, privacy, and security over time change for all of us. Our grandparents would have found the snap-shot, nude selfies and sexting technology of today horrifying to their closeted mode of life.
This raises an affiliated issue, that of camera coverage in the bathroom. Again, there is little need for false modesty once monitored bedrooms become the norm. Some might argue that for reasons of decorum at least microphones in the toilet area should be disabled. But the bathroom area, regrettably, can be a scene of both domestic violence and, commonly, a venue for illegal drug usage; it simply makes no security sense to exclude it.
Intelligence and security organizations have undoubtedly long sought the benefits of adding this critically valuable tool to their tool-box of investigative devices. Indeed, the domestic political environment has never been so propitious as now for public acceptance of this new frontier in public security. Terrorism, crime, domestic violence—even unhealthy thinking about our government and its leaders—are surely concerns shared by most citizens who seek greater reassurance and security in their public and private lives.
For those concerned about “civil liberties,” it’s important to remember that all such archived data would never be accessed unless an individual or home should fall under suspicion; in that case such data derived from home surveillance coverage becomes a powerful tool, a gold mine for the prosecution of anti-social actors.
Finally, to look at the lighter side of it all, with some thought, procedures could be arranged with the administrators of these repositories to make available to private individuals certain “golden age playbacks.” Once individuals applied for and passed certain clearance procedures, selected digital data could be made available at a modest price to each homeowner. This helps cover the cost of this major national domestic surveillance project. More than that, this data would represent a treasure-trove of family events and memories to be savored for many years— moments preserved forever on camera, especially when members had not thought in advance to record these spontaneous happenings.
In sum, It is no longer reasonable to expose our vulnerable hi-tech societies today to the acts of small groups of criminals, radicals, and terrorists operating from the safe haven of the home. Let’s give our security services a break. We can all pitch in at almost no cost to our own freedoms to make sure that our society is kept safe for posterity.
And, who knows, the behavior of all of us at home might just be a tad better if we recall that our actions too are being preserved on camera!
Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is “Breaking Faith: a novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan.” (Amazon, Kindle) grahamefuller.com