Sex and Surveillance

NEW YORK – It is impossible to hear about sexual or sex-crime scandals nowadays – whether that involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn or those of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, or the half-dozen United States congressmen whose careers have ended in the past couple of years – without considering how they were exposed. What does it mean to live in a society in which surveillance is omnipresent?

Like the heat beneath the proverbial boiling frogs, the level of surveillance in Western democracies has been ratcheted up slowly – but far faster than citizens can respond. In the US, for example, President George W. Bush’s Patriot Act is being extended, following a series of backroom deals. Americans do not want it, and they were not consulted when it was enacted by their representatives under the pressure of a government that demanded more power in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. That does not seem to matter.

A concerted effort is underway in the US – and in the United Kingdom – to “brand” surveillance as positive. New York City subway passengers are now advised that they might experience random searches of their bags. Activists in America are now accustomed to assuming that their emails are being read and their phone calls monitored. Indeed, the telecom companies Verizon and AT&T have established areas on their premises for eavesdropping activity by the National Security Agency.

The spate of sex scandals is a sign of more serious corruption and degradation than most commentators seem to realize. Yes, sex criminals must be punished; but political career after political career, especially in America, is ending because of consensual affairs.