Remember London’s call to its citizens to paw through each other’s trash, looking for suspicious materials? Or the numerous times in America politicians have told us in not so subtle ways to keep a watchful and suspicious eye on our neighbors? Now, thanks to the Illinois State Police, trash collectors have been deputized in the surveillance state’s war on the population.
Cook County Sherriff Tom Dart enlisted 25 garbage collectors to train in surveillance tactics such as looking for pot plants in back yards, taking notes on abandoned cars or realizing that large containers could be a potential terrorist threat. The program, dubbed “Waste Watch” by Waste Management Inc, has already been implemented in 100 communities nationwide according to the Chicago Tribune. Sherriff Dart said the partnership is free and is akin to adding new officers on the streets.
When we look at this program through a post 9/11 lens and take into account the numerous other privacy violations Americans have endured throughout the past decade, the idea of garbage men enlisted to “observe and report” suspicious activity seems almost quaint – even passé. Waste Management Inc’s annual report says of the program “Because our drivers are present at times when neighborhood or business crimes would often go unnoticed, they are able to spot suspicious activity or emergency situations and to contact the appropriate authorities immediately.” All of it even sounds almost like exactly what an active citizen should do – in case of emergency, call the appropriate first responders.
But this isn’t simply about a trash collector working a route and calling the police when witnessing a break in or tipping off the cops after noticing an awful lot of dead chickens in the dumpster behind the corner bar. This is essentially enlisting workers who at the core, are providing a public service (albeit via a privatized company) to spy on other citizens and “report suspicious activity,” which we’ve seen could be anything from an abandoned vehicle or package on a train, to enjoying a falafel sandwich, to owning a copy of The Farmers Almanac.
So before you write this off as innocuous or believe it’s in the best interest (for your safety, of course) for trash collectors to be enlisted as another set of eyes and ears of a government body, remember that the feds are also interested in what you read online, the mail coming into your home, your email, your phone calls, your activities on the street via integrated camera networks. Apparently, that’s the price of freedom.