Under the Sun
America forfeited to IDs and 'papers, please'
THE elderly woman was startled when I began wiggling my fingers at the ceiling in the elevator cab we shared in a Kapiolani Boulevard building.
Brows raised, eyes wide open, the question was clear on her face: "What the heck are you doing?"
I laughed and explained that what with the ubiquity of security cameras these days, I was sure there was one tucked in the gridwork of metal and lights above us.
Her expression didn't change.
I said I'd already spotted cameras in the building's parking garage and the lobby, their oscillating lenses capturing my every move. I was just amusing myself, waving at the watchers, I said.
Her gaze shifted up to the grid and back to me as she edged anxiously toward the doors. When they slid open, she squeezed through quickly and hurried down the hall. Then it struck me that she thought I was exactly the kind of lunatic those cameras are intended to catch.
I guess I shouldn't fool around like that because in the devolvement to a post-9/11 world, security has become serious business. Unfortunately, security also has come to mean an erosion of freedom.
Government and business no longer trust that most of us behave within the law.
It's not just at airports that we are frisked and treated with suspicion. Go to a mall and watchers will be watching shoppers and shoplifters alike.
More and more these days, you are required to show some form of identification, reminiscent the "papers, please" directives of repressive communist regimes.
At a Kaimuki drug store last week, a woman with two kids in tow had to reach around the infant strapped to her chest in one of those baby pouches to show a clerk her driver's license.
She wasn't paying with a check; there weren't problems with a debit card. She was buying a cold medicine that apparently contained a chemical that can be used to concoct crystal meth.
So she was carded, her face examined to see if it matched the photo, her license number recited over the in-store intercom to see if it conformed to the one on the license shown before the medicine was released from behind a counter, then duly recorded a second time.
The whole procedure unsettled her as she sniffled into a wad of Kleenex. Even after the clerk smiled and thanked her, she seemed offended, abruptly stuffing her purchases into a tote bag hooked on a baby carriage and pushing off.
Controlling sale of the medicine is sensible, just as checking shoes, even worn-thin rubber slippers, for bombs before their wearers board a plane. But some of these practices go too far.
The assumption that everyone is suspect enables authorities to think it's OK to prowl through phone records and e-mails, to trace Google searches and note Web sites not because you're up to no good, but just in case you're up to no good.
This gill-netting approach to security, say defenders of such programs, doesn't hurt those who aren't criminals. It does. It affects how we think, if not what we do. It breaks down the freedom of our minds and a lightness of our being. It makes us look over our shoulders. It makes us a little afraid.
I guess I still hold on to the ideal of an America where people have a reasonable expectation that government won't track every step they take, where their activities, associations, friends and colleagues, their clients and their memberships are nobody's business but their own. Where people can come and go without a lanyard of documents testifying to their legitimacy tied around their necks. Where I won't have to resort to finger-waves at a hidden camera to convey my objections to being watched.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org