Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Video Recording of Government Workers. Why Not?

Any program requiring more tax dollars should be willing to accept public video monitoring via the Internet.

For years my technology friends and I have discussed that in the near future it will become practical to record every waking moment of our lives.  Have you ever fantasized about playing back a section of video and being able to show your spouse or your boss that the way you handled a situation is not as they described?  Imagine the arguments you could settle!  Google Glass will make this easier on a personal level.  Recently the price of network cameras (as opposed to the old CCTV style) have come down enough that I replaced my home cameras with IP cameras and a Windows based machine running Blue Iris that captures motion around my home.  I love the new system.  It's easy to use, monitorable via the Internet and reasonably priced.  Storage prices are coming down, and power usage of the new system is pretty low so it's possible to imagine retaining a lot of video if you had reason to do so.

All this video footage got me thinking about the great debate on our hard working government sector employees.  As a guy who has climbed around working on computers in government buildings, I've seen my share of civil servants slacking off.  As a Libertarian I've been pretty vocal most my life that the government sector is too large.  I've talked to friends and former employees who actually work in Federal and State positions and they've confirmed that they were asked to "slow down a bit" when they first went to work there because they were making others look bad.  I've heard stories of welfare fraud and abuse through friends that make my hair curl.  The stupidity and waste in the military is legendary.   Whether it's education or healthcare, city or federal, police or fire, social security or the DMV....they are all known for inefficiency.    Democrats seem not to worry about how deeply dysfunctional all aspects of government are and want to continue to "invest" more.  My preferred solution is to have competing government agencies that the public can chose to use as I feel competition would keep them on their toes and outweigh the inefficiencies of duplication.  But given that probably won't happen another thought is wouldn't you love a deep expose on government efficiency?  I wished the press would place spies in government jobs and record the shenanigans over a number of years. Unfortunately the press never had the budget or the patience for this type of sting.  Back 10 or 20 years ago it might have been possible to do such an undercover assignment, but budgets have gotten pretty bleak for journalists  these days.

15% of our population now work for our tax dollars.  Public sector unions are so damn adamant that they are under paid and over worked.  Democrats and Republicans alike seem very anxious to borrow the country into oblivion to pay for more government.  What if we turned the tables on the government?  Why don't we start recording full video and audio in government workplaces and make that video available to independent auditors?  In fact, if no private data is at stake, we should make that video to the general public on the Internet.  Government workers seem to have no problem violating our privacy so it seems turn about would be fair play. Snowden showed us that the government is highly involved in monitoring our private communication.  The cell phone in your pocket literally allows where you go to be tracked.  Cops access private video and cell data all the time when investigating crimes.  Shouldn't it be the other way around as well? If you've never used security software like Blue Iris, it allows you to scrub quickly backwards and forwards through the video and get a pretty good idea of what's going on.  A person could review an entire year's worth of video in a few hours and learn a lot about work habits and efficiency.  If I'm paying a government worker with my tax dollars don't I have a right to be able to scrub quickly through the video of their work and workplace to get a sense of what they do all day?  If nothing else it could be used as a compromise proposal the next time a politician or government worker asks for more money.  "Oh you'd like to expand that program and hire more people?  In return for our funding you wouldn't mind us installing security cameras in the workplace to monitor how those people are doing would you?  Oh.. and it will be searchable and viewable via the Internet so you may not want to do anything you don't want seen."

I've wrestled with explaining to spiritual friends my ethics and morality over the years.  I feel the same rules basically apply whether we're being watched by a supreme being or not.  I finally came up with a universal litmus test to explain it that also helps me determine if I am "doing the right thing".  I merely ask myself  "If what I'm about to do were on camera is there anyone in this world I wouldn't want to see this video?"  If the answer is yes it's a good indication I shouldn't be doing it.

Isn't it time we held government workers to that ethical standard?

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