“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake.”
I can’t be the only one who finds Santa’s omniscience creepy, right?
It’s the part of the Santa Claus myth that’s always bothered me, especially now, in an age when the government has been caught spying on American citizens. Santa is supposed to be the jolly face of unconditional love and generosity; the last thing I want to do is to teach my kids he’s another great eye in the sky constantly watching and judging them, even in their most private moments.
The Elf on the Shelf is another holiday example of this disturbing idea. If you’ve been blissfully left out of this new-ish Christmas craze, the elf is a toy based on a book by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell. The conceit is that the elf is Santa’s scout – his spy – tracking naughtiness and niceness inside your own home.
Why are we so willing to normalize this kind of surveillance culture?
It seems we’re becoming increasingly numb to the idea that we’re being watched. Police dispatchers monitor traffic cameras in real time. Security cameras can be found in most businesses. Facebook tracks every website you visit. Your smart phone is a constant beacon to all screaming out the details of where you’ve been, with whom, and for what. Your workplace probably reserves the right to read your corporate email.
Meanwhile, presidential candidate Donald Trump has suggested spying on certain places of worship. Fellow candidate Ben Carson has floated the idea of spying on college campuses and newspapers for speech politicians don’t like. The National Security Agency was instructed just this summer by Congress to stop collecting bulk information on domestic phone calls (a part of the Patriot Act allowed to lapse) – and already there is pressure by some top officials to resume that spying on Americans.
What is going on? We’re surprisingly willing to give up privacy. After all, “I have nothing to hide, so I have nothing to fear,” you might believe.
If that’s true, then let’s remove the doors from all public bathroom stalls.
If that’s true, you have no need for passwords.
If that’s true, let’s have a look at your diary. At your tax returns. At those photos you and your significant other snapped together. At the box under your bed. At your hospital records.
If that’s true, then let’s overturn the Fourth Amendment, which protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures….”
It’s a terrifying, downright dangerous way to think.
As whistleblower Edward Snowden has been quoted: “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
Boundaries are healthy, even if you don’t think you have secrets worth guarding. Everyone has a need for privacy.
Maybe we should make that clear to Santa and the Elf on the Shelf, too. Or at the very least, we could use them as jumping-off point for talking to our kids about privacy and why it’s so very important.