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Balancing act

I’ve touched on the subject briefly in recent columns, but ironically enough the idea of “big brother,” i.e. the government watching your every move is not a new concept.

The idea of video surveillance has become a hot topic recently with the horrific Boston Marathon bombings bringing the subject to the surface.

In fact, it seems cameras located at strategic locations captured images of the suspected bombers.

Perhaps the most noted treatment of the topic comes in novelist George Orwell’s classic novel, “1984.”

Published in 1949 before the age of computers, cell phone cameras and red light cameras at traffic lights, the novel describes a world of war, ever-present government surveillance and public mind control.

One political party of elitists, led by a party leader known simply as “Big Brother,” prohibits any individual or independent thinking.

The “hero” of the novel is a fellow by the name of Winston Smith, who works for the Ministry of Truth, which essentially “rewrites” history for the benefit of the state, but secretly distrusts the ruling party.

The very idea of government control is at the heart of arguments against pervasive video surveillance by our government, in secret or not.

The very thought of red light cameras at intersections has some raising cries of civil liberties in peril, but with the threat of terrorism always in the back of everyone’s collective minds, some advocate further surveillance and in different forms.

Smith faces a dilemma.  Faithfully hold the party line and leave things the way they are, or look out for the greater good and revolting at the expense of his career and possibly his life.

The issue of government surveillance, as debated non-stop following passage of the Patriot Act due to the 911 attacks, is ongoing.

Striking a balance between civil liberties and protecting our citizens against terrorism, foreign or domestic, is difficult.

But, as one person told me after the 911 attacks, incidents like the ones on Sept. 11, 2001 and recently in Boston can happen because we live in a free and open society.

Which would you rather have?