April 2020

Line in the Sand: “Private eyes,they’re watching you!”

Author: Barry Kaufman, Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Opinion 1: Barry Kaufman
Before we begin, a quick welcome back to Courtney for this month. Of all the people I disagree with (and there are many), I disagree with her the most, so it’s a pleasure to spar with her once again. Now onto my nonsensical half of this column.

There’s a phrase in Latin that comes up pretty often in today’s surveillance state: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. My Latin is a little rusty, but I believe it translates to “Google Translate servers are currently down. Please try again later.”

Kidding! Google’s translate servers are like the rest of Google: unfailing and omnipresent. It actually translates to “Who will guard the guards themselves,” which we have eventually morphed into the much cooler-sounding “Who watches the watchmen.”

This question of who watches the watchmen came up locally in recent news when the always-brilliant Liz Farrell raised some thought-provoking questions about surveillance in Beaufort County in her Island Packet column. This was enough of a tense topic to draw Courtney out of her self-imposed exile, leading her to reveal how little she thinks of being watched.

One might almost surmise that Courtney’s thoughts on privacy are fueled largely by the unspeakable things she does in her personal life—things she doesn’t want anyone to see on closed circuit camera. Fortunately, I’m above those kinds of ad hominem attacks, which is another Latin phrase which I use here to sound smarter than I am.

For my own purposes, I’m generally fairly boring to watch. I can’t imagine anyone trying to surveil me, but if they do, I recommend maybe getting a cup of coffee. You’re about to witness several hours of crossword puzzles followed by a nap.

But those cameras aren’t there to watch me fritter my meaningless life away; they’re there to catch bad guys in the act. A few years ago, my son’s bike was stolen from his school, and thankfully, the thieves were dumb enough to not only steal a $30 Walmart bike, but to do it right in front of the school’s CCTV cameras.
From the footage we were able to ascertain the following:

1) The thieves consisted of two vaguely humanoid and highly blurry individuals.
2) They stole the bike in the dead of night, hauling it away in what looked like an automobile of some kind.
3) Said automobile could also have possibly been a large refrigerator with headlights.
4) The school’s CCTV cameras don’t actually work very well at night, which is odd since that’s when crime tends to happen.

We eventually got the bike back, despite the best efforts of the surveillance state to help out. But it taught me a valuable lesson about what actually goes on behind those security cameras. Sure, people wonder who watches the watchmen and fret over who might actually be doing the surveilling and whether they will uphold the public trust. But having seen how great these cameras are at catching bike thieves, I can at least rest assured that regardless of who is watching the cameras, they probably can’t make out anything too specific.

So, the Courtneys of the world can relax. You’re free to live your degenerate life without worrying who might be watching you. No matter what you’re doing, or how despicable it might seem to everyday society, somebody is watching you. Whether they can see you is another story.

Me, I’ll be over here looking up Latin phrases on Google. At least they teach me a few things while they spy on me. 

Opinion 2: Courtney Hampson
Big brother is watching. Or maybe someone’s brother is watching. It turns out that there are 60 cameras surveilling resident activity in Old Town Bluffton. Old Town is one square mile. One square mile is 624 acres. This means that one camera is recording ever 10 acres of activity. With that math, I am not sure this is cause for alarm. I have three cameras on my roughly two-acre lot, and I basically see the front door, the back door and the pool—if it is daylight. Even then, squinting is required to determine exactly what is happening in the pool, and on the porches and patios.

We got the cameras last summer because we were having a pool installed and were going to be out of town for nine days. We figured the cameras would let us see the comings and goings of the pool company and monitor the progress of the pool construction. We were super-excited. Turns out, when the pool company knows you’re going to be out of town for nine days, they don’t work on your project. We sipped coconut mojitos from the pool at our Hawaiian hotel and watched absolutely nothing happening in our absence.

However, since then, we have found the cameras to be most useful. Primarily when I can’t remember what time I asked Leigh, our saint of a dog sitter, to come over and I want to check to make sure I remembered to call in a pass for her and that the dog has had dinner and been tucked in for the night. Or when we asked my mom to take care of the dog and we want to ensure that she remembered. Last time when we logged in from afar, we saw Leigh scooping the poop in our backyard. Talk about over and above the call of duty (so many puns, so little time).

So, maybe we installed the cameras to make sure the dog is okay. This may seem weird to you (and Leigh, if she is reading), but you probably have kids. I don’t, so stop judging me. I am sure there is plenty of other activity we could be monitoring if we had the notifications turned on. We’d know when we received a package. And when the neighbors’ cat was at the back door tormenting our cat. (They like to duke it out through the sliding glass door.) And I am certain if, God forbid, anything bad ever was to happen, we’d be able to check the “tape.”

I guess what I am trying to say is that just because there are 60 cameras in Old Town Bluffton doesn’t mean Bluffton PD and town council are logging in via the app (which they can) and watching what everyone is doing (which they can). I am hopeful that this camera install was a precautionary measure in case of emergency—like when a white thoroughbred blows the stop sign at Nickel Pumpers and an officer isn’t sitting at the intersection.

This past weekend, in Brooklyn, NY, a surveillance video caught five suspects in a brutal crime. So, I am going to fill my glass half full on this one and assume our elected officials and our finest aren’t getting their kicks watching people stumble from Calhoun’s on a Friday night (which they can) and instead want to ensure that they do indeed have eyes everywhere, just in case they need them.

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