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WATCH YOURSELF: BIG BROTHER'S WATCHING

"The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. . . . There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time."

- From George Orwell's "1984"Emerging from the horror of Oklahoma City is the realization that Big Brother, indeed, is watching. Despite the assistance that surveillance cameras have afforded law enforcement people in the bombing case, there needs to be a concern as to how far this technology will take us.

Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm warned more than 40 years ago of a society dominated by technology. He used the phrase "negative utopia" in describing the government-dominated societies fantasized in writing by men such as Orwell and Aldous Huxley.

Ironically, the very persons that appear to be emerging as catalysts to the Oklahoma City bombing organized themselves as extreme reactors to a deluge of government control, prefacing and carrying the populist insurrection against too much government to fanatical resolution.

It is difficult to travel anywhere these days without a video camera, hidden or in the open, keeping track of you. They're in banks, convenience stores, department stores, schools and who knows where else? They were peering out of apartment windows in Los Angeles when Rodney King was beaten by a mob of cops.

That surveillance cameras in Oklahoma City are abundant was evidenced by the FBI asking all establishments in the area with the devices to turn over their tapes to assist in the investigation. That means there are so many that even the FBI doesn't know who all has them, and has to make a public appeal.

Often, the cameras serve justice, but they can be misused.

The danger lurking behind the Oklahoma City tragedy is that, in our revulsion for what happened there, we convert ourselves into a society that takes Orwell's "Big Brother Is Watching You" posters out the realm of fiction and into reality.

Already, some of the legislation pending before an angry Congress and suggested by an equally angry president smacks of Big Brother-ism.

If one bill passes - and it is possible that it will not - no longer would the FBI have to show evidence of a criminal act before being allowed to infiltrate or investigate organizations. Under the proposed bill, the FBI could be investigating your church group or mutual funds club without establishing just cause.

It was not that long ago when the nation was horrified to learn that J. Edgar Hoover was secretly keeping tabs on thousands of Americans whose ideas he did not like. This form of surveillance need not be revived.

Also threatened is the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act - an outgrowth of post-Civil War Reconstruction - which barred the military from enforcing civilian laws. It assured Americans, at least legally, against a military takeover of our streets and institutions.

In the passion of today, there is legislation pending that would accept military involvement in crimes having to do with mass destruction weapons. It sounds like a fine idea, but let's run it up and down the flagpole a few dozen times before we agree to use our military in domestic situations. An inch can become a mile, an ounce of prevention a pound of oppression.

There is a fine line that has to be established to provide Americans security against future terrorism, but to not erode our civil rights. These emotional days are not the time to be creating that legislation. Time needs to pass, temperate thinking needs to prevail.

Meanwhile, I've got to establish new thinking while walking around town; watch where I scratch, whom I ogle, what I say - because Big Brother really is out there, peering at me from a 7-Eleven or Dunkin Donuts.