Is the U.S. Forest Service spying on visitors?

Our country’s national parks and forests are intended as sanctuaries, zones of peace and quiet where visitors can get away from the give and take of modern life. But don’t expect to have it all to yourself: these days you might be joined by hidden cameras, placed by the U.S. Forest Service. Don’t break out the tinfoil hat just yet; this “conspiracy theory” may have some truth to it. According to a South Carolina newspaper, the agency has been placing hidden cameras in forest areas for some time.

Visitor Herman Jacob was camping and looking for firewood in South Carolina’s Francis Marion National Forest last month when he stumbled across a wire. The wire took him to a video camera and a remote antenna sitting in the middle of the woods. Perplexed, Jacob took the camera home with him and contacted the local police, who explained it had been set up to monitor “illicit activities” and demanded its return. Further investigation by the Island Packet, the newspaper that researched the story, confirmed that the Forest Service has used the cameras as a tool of law enforcement for “numerous years.” A Forest Service spokesperson quoted in the article indicated that images taken of those not targeted by an investigation are not kept.

In light of the fact drug cartels have been growing marijuana on federal land for some time, this type of surveillance makes more sense. And, legally, the cameras are on public land – surveillance is permissible. But is a policy that allows this type of monitoring, particularly in a quiet forest, a violation of our trust? Or is it a necessary evil, preventing misuse of public land? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

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