Why a Surveillance Society Clock?

September 4, 2007

Surveillance is an urgent issue. That isn't always obvious amid the constant blur of new technologies and one-day privacy stories, but when you step back it is clear we are at a crucial moment for the future of privacy and freedom, in danger of tipping into a genuine surveillance society completely alien to American values. That is why the ACLU has made this new Surveillance Clock – to dramatize the urgent situation we face.

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Amazing new technologies enter our lives at such a steady pace that we have gotten used to constant change – change that often comes to us wrapped in the promise (and often the reality) of pleasing new conveniences and efficiencies. Yet the dark side of new technologies is usually slower to emerge – and often builds in the shadows, without an advertising budget or corporate cheerleader to thrust it into public view.

It doesn't require some apocalyptic vision of American democracy being replaced by dictatorship to worry about a surveillance society. There is a lot of room for the United States to become a meaner, less open and less just place without any radical change in government. All that's required is the continuation of trends that have continued unimpeded in recent years:

  • Powerful new technologies
  • Weakening privacy laws
  • The "War on Terror"
  • Courts that are letting privacy rights slip away
  • A president who thinks he can ignore laws against warrantless spying on citizens
  • Big corporations willing to become extensions of the surveillance state

The Surveillance Clock symbolizes the potential for a dark future where our every move, our every transaction, our every communication, and eventually our every thought, is recorded, compiled, and stored away, ready to be examined and used against us by the authorities whenever they want.

The Surveillance Society Clock was inspired by the "Doomsday Clock" created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to warn about the potential for nuclear war. Today we face the prospect of the complete loss of our privacy. In that way, the Surveillance Society Clock is a fitting sign of the times we're now living in.

But, as dire as things have gotten, it's not too late - there is still time to save our privacy. Doomsayers who say "it doesn't matter, we've already lost all our privacy" are wrong. In America we still enjoy many protections despite everything that is happening – a reflection of the wisdom of our founders and the strength of our traditions. But to keep those traditions alive, our generation will have to work harder. We need modern privacy laws and new technologies that enhance our privacy rather than destroy it.

We hope that our clock will help to remind people of the emergency we face, and spur them to take action on our Web page.

Go to www.aclu.org/clock

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