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We've set out on a kind of quest. We want to explore some striking changes in our society, the many ways in which Americans are now monitored. And to consider how mindful we should be about traditional American values like privacy and autonomy. We start in Florida, by driving through the brightly colored gates of Disney World.
Security cameras at the "Parking Toll Booth" at Walt Disney World World in Orlando, Fl.
(Courtesy Disney World Magic Kingdom Virtual Tour)
As a cultural symbol, Disney might be an attractive target for terrorists. In 2003 the federal government created no-fly zones over Disney World and California's Disneyland. They were the first privately-owned places in the country to get that protection, otherwise reserved for things like chemical weapons plants.
At the entrance to the parking lot, surveillance cameras hang from the parking attendant's booth, one pointing out at oncoming cars and the other directed inward to "watch" the rear of each entering vehicle. The cameras are there to record license plates? we ask. Yes, the attendant acknowledges. You could almost miss the cameras, though. They're camouflaged in Disney style: pink paint.
The nation is sprouting surveillance cameras by the thousands - in offices, homes, on street corners and highways. And like the cameras at Disney, most are installed by businesses, not the government. But cameras are just the most obvious form of surveillance. What's really opening the windows of our lives and allowing others to peer in is what's been called the "data revolution."
Down the road from Disney, we visit Hank Asher in Boca Raton, Florida.
We're sitting in the alcove of Hank Asher's kitchen. Out back is a pool that looks like something out of a David Hockney painting.
Before September 11, 2001, Hank Asher was in semi-retirement, spending a lot of time at his sprawling mansion or fishing off the coast of South Florida. Asher wears shorts, deck shoes, and a t-shirt with the name of his boat on it. He's a paunchy man with big forearms and graying hair. Two days after 9/11, he was at home in Boca Raton following the news.
"And I was standing six feet behind you at that countertop right there," says Asher, "doing the same thing that most Americans were doing: I was drinking."
Unlike most Americans, Asher was thinking about how he could identify the attackers, or anyone who might be planning another strike.
Continue to Part 2