A mere three days ago, I was walking the loop of Isla Vista when I could not help but notice a rather prominent aberration in the traditional scenery. Adjacent to the Isla Vista Theater was what might be described as a “pole” of sorts — one end held grounded by an immense concrete block, with the upper section featuring two flood lights, five security cameras and multiple warning signs that nearby individuals were subject to trespassing penalties.
I witnessed this strange object on my way to purchase a sandwich, an event that, once completed, instigated a return to my place of residence, located several blocks from the aforementioned structure. To those of you who are not informed of the details of my life, I reside on the third floor of a prominent apartment building, where I mainly breathe, sleep and consume sandwiches. Fascinatingly, my window affords a rather nice view of the five-camera security structure that is now placed two blocks away — a device that my neighbors and I endearingly refer to as “The Eye of Sauron.” However, several hours after my discovery of this peculiar contraption, I realized that it was simply one of a set of similar devices.
Nearly adjacent to I.V. Theater is Embarcadero Hall. Upon my inspection of this property I was able to identify two siblings to Sauron’s Eye, each featuring five security cameras, two floodlights and multiple signs indicating that an individual’s presence on the property in question somehow constitutes trespassing. I then located a fourth tower near the lagoon equipped with the same number of cameras as the others, once again advertising the same statement about trespassing within the zone surrounding the device.
I’ve found this last detail rather strange, as all UCSB property is technically held in public trust, and therefore any citizen traversing its land is in fact not trespassing by simply being on the campus grounds. Actually, this is the reason why we don’t immediately eject fringe activists from the campus, such as those who employed shock propaganda this past Tuesday at the Arbor. Technically, they are taxpayers and are therefore entitled to a presence on this our public campus, despite their fanaticism.
So why the additional security measures in Isla Vista and on university property? One can only assume that this is related to the recent and well-publicized occurrence of sexual assault that took place within our neighborhood. This is obviously a thing that all decent individuals should find repulsive, and I am fairly certain that our student body is united in the hope that the offenders in question will be apprehended, prosecuted and summarily shipped off to one of our state’s numerous prisons. However, the question should be asked: Will the exponential increase in security cameras within our community actually do anything other than invade the privacy of the 99 percent of us who do not commit violent crime?
If you’ve occupied Isla Vista for any reasonable amount of time, chances are you have witnessed at least one — if not more — police arrests. While I am aware that violent crime does occur in our town, any police officer will tell you that the majority of crimes are non-forced entry for the sake of petty theft and, of course, disappearing bicycles. (I myself have had two bikes stolen … though, admittedly, the second one was a device which I loathed, and so I left it without a lock at the Campbell Hall bike racks.)
So, in a town where the vast majority of crimes are non-violent, why do we need so many cops and security cameras? Isla Vista and UCSB — an area of about two square miles — employs approximately 60 police officers. By per capita and land size, this makes it one of the most heavily policed areas of Southern California.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that there is good money to be made arresting inebriated freshman peeing behind trees each Friday night on DP, and every time I witness one of these incidents I am reminded of how lucky I am to be attending college, as it means I will eventually become part of the educated workforce, and am therefore not likely to ever become a police officer. One would think that with the presence of so many cops in Isla Vista, occurrences of violence and sexual assault would be quite rare — and yet I suspect that our “solution” to this crime problem will simply be to augment our police force and add dozens of security cameras around the town and campus.
Unlike many others, I am not going to employ the old clichéd rhetoric comparing contemporary police culture with George Orwell’s 1984, but for the majority of my life, I have heard people in America groan about how many security cameras there are in Britain, and some Europeans do this as well. It was only this past summer that I was able to visit the U.K. and witness the surveillance phenomenon for myself. Yes, it is absolutely true that England is replete with closed-circuit security cameras. However, there is something else they have which America does not: A police force that refrains from routinely killing its own citizens L.A.P.D.-style. Police officers in Britain don’t even carry firearms, and they certainly do not prance down the street on horseback, accosting hapless Halloween celebrants.
While I have only located four of these new security poles in the nearby vicinity (representing a sum of 20 security cameras, eight flood lights, and 12 signs stating, “THIS PROPERTY IS UNDER RANDOM REMOTE VIDEO AND AUDIO SURVEILLANCE. YOU MAY BE OBSERVED AND RECORDED. DO NOT ENTER”), I have reason to suspect there are probably more, or that there will be soon. Americans chide the British for having so many CCTV cameras, and the Brits in turn negatively remark on the militaristic nature of our country’s law enforcement. Happily for us in Isla Vista, we now have the worst of both worlds.
At this point I have not made any formal inquiries into the decision-making process that went into authorizing the erection of these structures. But if I did, I am sure I would be met with the typical response which middle-aged parents and government officials have been using since the beginning of time: If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to worry about. Sadly, this is a logical fallacy known as a false dichotomy, as I have had to point out to family members of mine multiple times. This represents a break in logic since it forces someone to choose between two options when there are actually more than two. Another common false dichotomy is “You’re either with us or against us,” which erroneously attempts to prelude a third option: neutrality.
The main problem with the “nothing to hide” argument is that it attempts to claim that the sole purpose of privacy is to conceal wrongdoing, which is simply not true. People can want privacy for a number of reasons, such as embarrassment resulting from an activity that is perfectly acceptable or legal, or because they do not want their private information shared for marketing purposes.
As a community, we deserve better than ubiquitous surveillance of our daily lives. We deserve better than to be treated with assumed guilt. There are ways to prevent criminal activity, but we should not have to sacrifice our community’s privacy in the process of pursuing this end.
Jonathan Rogers just doesn’t want SBPD to watch him visit South Coast Deli over and over again … his sandwich addiction is getting out of hand.