Brave New World

Brave new world: All citizens are agents of the state, charged with keeping watch on every other citizen and reporting activities detrimental to good order. Unorthodoxy is suspicious.

Remember when that used to be considered a bad thing?

Look, we don't want to overstate the situation here, but we've heard about the old U.S.S.R., and we can't help but be taken a little bit aback by how readily a Dallas City Council committee this week embraced the police department's new "iWatch Dallas," a "virtual crime watch" that allows the citizenry to anonymously type in tips of suspect behavior from computers and cell phones.

Not sure if DPD is trying to make this sound like a dystopian novel, but at a briefing on the program held Monday, the coppers sure had some fantastic iWatch terminology: Information goes through a "Fusion Center" once tips come in from SAR (private sector Suspicious Activity Reporting). But before you check out of the real world and into that bunker in the yard, Deputy Chief Brian Harvey assures that racial and ethnic profiling will be minimized because of the Fusion Center, and also because of an online focus group that'll be used to evaluate the program. Harvey says DPD has been in touch with civil liberties groups in trying to ensure nobody's liberties get uncivilly taken away.

Focus group marketing meets the police state meets government bureaucracy. How do you improve three things that, each on their own, produce miserable results? You combine them, and create a cell phone app. It's called Paranoia 2.0.

Says the DPD, "iWatch Dallas focuses on criminal behavior and criminal enterprises that could also indicate a nexus to terrorist activities."

As one local blogger pointed out in a post on the program's homeland-security aspects, iWatch's definition of suspicious behavior casts a pretty broad net. Paying for anything with cash is hinky. Devoted hobbyist? That model train builder may, in fact, be an Al Qaeda agent. You say you're a tourist and want to see the local sites? Oh, we have your number, Bin Laden Boy. (Actually, that last one makes a certain amount of sense, considering this is Dallas.)

It would sound so creepy and threatening if it weren't for the fact that this program will depend on the risible combo of complex Internet and cell phone technology with police and city bureaucracy. Our future is safe from the intrusion of Big Brother because, and we hate to be unkind, Big Brother is kind of, um, dim.

At least for now.

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Andrea Grimes
Contact: Andrea Grimes