Big Brother was listening to you – kind of

We’ll stop far short of it being called Orwellian, but for a little while there, a government authority was recording your conversations.

At a doorway.

In three Knox County government buildings.

But not much farther than that.

Still, it was unsettling to a few people who would rather protect privacy. Or at the very least, not have a government entity peering (or listening) over your shoulder. Because hey, people are already being watched in the City County building and Old Knox County Courthouse. Video cameras in there aren’t a new thing.

So here’s the story that ran in today’s KNS on audio recording recently happening at entrances to the City County Building.

Jayne Burritt

Jayne Burritt

Property management director at the PBA, Jayne Burritt, who appears to be the likely successor to outgoing PBA director Dale Smith, installed the recording devices in an effort to be sure security screeners were doing their jobs right, and that people coming in who had complaints had a log of interactions.

Enter the law of unintended consequences. Burritt in her role has authority to run the buildings as she sees fit; and Smith isn’t a micromanager. But once Smith heard of the recording devices he was not warm to the idea. The mics are shut down until further notice.

A few attorneys we talked with yesterday weren’t pleased, either. Lawyer Arthur Seymour, Jr., in general, doesn’t like the idea of reduced privacy for the public.

“The security people are very nice … they do their jobs, they do it very professionally,” he said. “That’s a public building, but I always thought maybe we had too much security.”

Knoxville attorney Mike Whalen – who called after deadline yesterday – had this to say:

“The only thing I would say is I think we ought to be a little careful about giving up our privacy, even if it ain’t much privacy … especially if the reason to give it up is so tenuous that we can give it up and take it back.”

So is this an intrusion of privacy, or monitoring a public building? The PBA’s attorney is looking into it. Until then, speak freely at entrances to the buildings. The PBA is still watching, but it’s not listening – for now.


About Gerald

A journalist in Knoxville, TN. Work (mostly) inside and play (mostly) outside. I'm a part of the X or the Y generation. None of us claim the other.
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