L. Neil Smith's
"Ze Camera, Pleaze..."
by Jeff Schwartz
Special to TLE
Remember the old 1960's spy-spoof skits on TV, when the zany Commies would arrest someone for taking an innocent snapshot - a snapshot that happened to show some State Secret in the background. Typically it was something that had no importance to the sophisticated American tourist with the Kodak... but was something portrayed as deadly serious by the actor with the bad accent.
The thing that made it funny was the thought that there really were places in the world where there was a government pervasive enough to prevent a person from taking home a keepsake of their travels, on the off chance that the person who tripped the shutter might be a running dog lackey of the evil capitalists.
Those thoughts crossed my mind this evening as I watched an airline employee explain, politely and apologetically, to a young lad - he looked to be a high school student - that he couldn't take a picture of his friends while in the 'sterile' area of the airport.
The TV news no longer shows clips of people standing in line to go through airport security (while under the watchful eye of friendly folks with M16's.) The reason is that no one is allowed to take photos of those parts of the airport anymore.
No more will we see Mom & Dad snapping a pic of the kids looking out the windows, watching the 747 roll up to the gate.
Never again will three college girls snap quick Polaroids of the moment the say goodbye for the summer.
After all, they might really be terrorists, casing the joint, right?
The loss of those pictures, after all, isn't a loss in the same class as losing the Mona Lisa. Humanity will survive without photo- documentation of the last 90 seconds of Bill and Ted's excellent spring break.
I can see the logic in that argument.
What concerns me is that there is a loss of and to humanity when Society declares that something is expendable in the name of Security.
Today we accept the idea of not taking pictures in the airport with a shrug, say "nine eleven" and feel a mixture of stoicism and patriotism while nodding and being as polite to the airline employee as he is to us.
Five years from now, will we be told that a model railroader can no longer take pictures of the trestle he wishes to recreate as part of his hobby?
Will the wide-eyed tourist have to explain that he was snapping photos of the Times Square subway station because the folks back home in Mayberry RFD would never believe his story of the big city if they couldn't see pictures?
It's not such a far-fetched idea. There are a number of countries where this kind of thing either currently is -- or, until recently, was -- illegal.
On September 10, Americans looked down their noses at the people who lived in such unenlightened lands.
That was then. This is now.
Now does not concern me half as much as the future. Historically, the USA has a habit of taking the ideas of other countries and running with them.
The Russians put a man in orbit - we put men on the moon.
The Brits manage to get a plane to fly over the Channel... and the US launches the Spirit of St Louis.
The Germans invent Ultra... the US lets you get PGP for free.
With a track record like that, where will our "Office of Homeland Security" take us?
Jeff Schwartz is a consulting programmer that spends way too much time on airplanes. When he has free time, he works on a Libertarian-ish Sci-Fi novel. The rough drafts for the novel are readable at: mywebpages.comcast.net/jeffreyschwartz/The%20Consultant.htm
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