APEC surveillance: Do we care?

Jamie Winpenny

When the City Council holds a public meeting on Friday, September 16, one of the items on the agenda is Resolution 11-229, which authorizes the use of “overt video monitoring” at and around the events of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Honolulu

Amid fears of violent protest and crime, evidently, the City is willing to consider compulsory surveillance of its citizens “to detect, deter, investigate, or prevent crime and to monitor traffic in order to ensure the safety of the meeting attendees and the public and the security of the meeting venues.”

And while the measure, and certainly APEC itself, conjures images of big money, big government and, indeed, Big Brother, should we be all that concerned about being caught on camera in public? After all, the City already uses surveillance cameras in Waikiki, Chinatown, and other locations. Big Brother is watching, and he has been for a long time. And no one seems to mind much. It will be interesting to see how much resistance Resolution 11-229 meets.

Public surveillance isn’t just a fact of modern life, it’s an industry. America’s Funniest Videos has been on television for over 20 years. Social media have commercialized videos of people and creatures in public doing things we find funny, cute, appalling, or otherwise irresistible. If I have the right to point my iPhone and shoot video of just about anything I see in public when I leave my apartment, and post it to YouTube, I don’t begrudge any government agency the same right.

I’m far more concerned about what the government doesn’t want me to see.

In response to the resolution to be considered by the City Council, American Civil Liberties Union Hawaii Executive Director Vanessa Chong has said, “The ACLU is very concerned about government abuse of surveillance, such as using surveillance technology (facial recognition, pan-tilt zoom) as a ‘fishing expedition’ by spying on law-abiding individuals in order to find the guilty few, or to intimidate law-abiding individuals from expressing their 1st Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.”

But even the ACLU isn’t railing against the measure. “We expect government to keep its word that these measures are temporary, narrowly tailored, and that implementation will comply with the Constitution,” says Chong. Fair enough.

And if there is anyone who would do something to imperil the safety of the public while in public, don’t we want the evidence to convict them? Of course we do. And the whole notion of a peaceful protest is that it takes place in public. What’s the point of decrying globalization, humanitarian crises, economic disparity, human rights violations, or whatever else people have against APEC, if you’re doing it with bong hits on your couch at home?

My advice for peaceful protestors at APEC, although I’ve never demonstrated against anything but a draconian curfew as a teenager, is to do exactly that: protest peacefully, intelligently, and doggedly. Just leave the bong at home.