A Dave Matthews Band bus driver was recently convicted of emptying a septic tank onto the open deck of a Chicago River tour boat containing 100 passengers. He didn't mean to dump it on the tour boat, by the way--he just meant to dump it in the river. The driver had initially denied the charge, but tapes from surveillance cameras in nearby buildings showed him doing it. The band has donated $50,000 to Friends of the Chicago River and $50,000 to the Chicago Park District in an effort to soothe the troubled waters.
Paradoxically, those of us who live in large cities usually assume that when we're in public--though we may be surrounded by hundreds of fellow citizens--we're anonymous (the "lonely crowd" syndrome). This is a luxury (if it is a luxury in these alienated days) that may fast be disappearing. The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) keeps a map of the cameras that survey public spaces in Manhattan...and there are thousands. We don't need to wait for Big Brother to install his Scary Surveillance Network: It's already been built, largely with private funds. All an official needs to do is subpoena the right tapes from the right time and she's set. With decent face recognition software, she will one day be able to look you up in the Department of Motor Vehicles license database. Add to that the proliferation of camera phones, which turn every citizen into a potential photographic snitch, and "public" isn’t nearly as private as it used to be.