Public Security Cameras and Privacy
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Some refer to law enforcement cameras as a valuable tool in crime reduction while others consider it as an invasion of their privacy. Either way, they may be right. In general terms, Hyatt (46) describes law enforcement cameras as tiny cameras that police officers clip on their uniforms or place on the street strategically to record both video and audio as they go about their daily duties. Indeed, the last decade has seen a very rapid adoption of this technology. By 2007, London had already installed more than 4 million cameras in the streets. This technology has good results and side effects just like any other technology.
There are two factions, each trying to justify their opinion with some minority caught in between the debate, and both points of view make sense to them. People applauding this technology argue that contrary to those who see the technology as an inversion of their privacy, the technology has helped in reducing police brutality that had been on a steady rise. Generally, the technology has also helped in reducing crimes, which was its major aim. People who see it as a serious invasion into their private life basically oppose the use of these cameras because they invade their private life. Therefore, this paper will elaborate on the arguments advanced by each side of the debate on this issue. However, with a proper policy to guide their usage, these cameras can help reduce crimes while also avoiding the inversion of people’s privacy (Goold and Daniel, 31).
Law enforcement cameras are majorly intended to reduce the rate of crime and cannot be said to be an inversion of privacy. The cameras have assisted in the reduction of crime in a number of ways, which dispute the argument that the cameras are simply an inversion of people’s privacy. First, they are directed at scanning such parts as number plates of cars which are never private, and are in any case meant for car identification. Moreover, the images that these cameras capture can enable police officers to gain access to the driving records, address and even the social security data in case the driver had been previously arrested. Such capabilities are not ill intended. They are meant to enable security authorities to easily mount a trail on stolen vehicles and retrieve them within the shortest period possible at the smallest effort. They can also be used to arrest the suspects involved in the crime. Similarly, these cameras may apply the same method in identifying the locations of missing people and even fugitives. For instance, since early 2013, when the government installed the cameras in Charlotte County, authorities have managed to arrest more than twenty four suspects with the assistance of the camera by the end of January 2014 (Elias 1).
These were the major reasons that persuaded technologist to develop this kind of security system. If at all these were the genuine reasons as to why the technology was invented, we must admit that they intended well for people. Nevertheless, with the development of this technology, the implementation phase has seen a lot of mixed reactions, some in support of it while others bluntly oppose the installation of cameras saying that the device would expose much of what they perceive to be private (Maverick 1).
Those who are in support of this technology argue that it will lead to a reduction in police brutality. This would be possible because the offices, fully aware that the camera is recording whatever they are doing or saying, would obviously restrain themselves from undesirable actions. In the long-run, this technology would prevent crime in two facets, which are far from targeting people’s privacy. Firstly, it will serve as a barrier to collusions of some rogue officers with criminals. Secondly, it will assist in capturing real time commission of a crime, which the prosecutors can use as evidence in a court of law (Maverick 1).
Looking at it critically, the issue of invading privacy should not even arise because the cameras are mostly common in public places. The presence of these cameras is normally limited to public places such as schools, malls, among other public places. They majorly serve to give these places a sense of security and not invasion into privacy. The logic behind those against opposing cameras is based on the argument that they invade privacy because these cameras are always put in public areas. They stress this point saying that in the public, it is not only these cameras recording. The same is done by people through their cell phones or even digital cameras. This begs the question as to why security cameras are the only source of concern. These cameras also discourage criminals from disrupting members of the public for fear of getting arrested. Other than this, they see no need for a person to worry even if the cameras were to be installed in their homes if at all they had nothing to hide. The only people supposed to get worried about the cameras are the suspects who have been dodging the security officers (Matchett 200).
In the same line of thinking, this group believe that by government watching people, it does not do it because they are idle, but for the greater good of its people. They say that the government has more compelling and important things to do. If the government would have no good intention in monitoring their citizens, probably they would not be doing it. The surveillance cameras would also allow the government to watch over people selectively allowing the authorities to concentrate on monitoring areas with high prevalence of crimes. This will even reduce the cost of providing security to citizens because it would be possible to narrow down to selected areas and at the same time reduce the manner of officers on the ground.
Another view is that these cameras provide the best opportunity to counter terrorism and snap the suspected terrorists. A good example is Boston marathon tragedy where the cameras helped a lot in revealing the identity of the suspect. Since some of these security gadgets have the capabilities of detecting presence of chemical and biological reagents, there is a possibility that they may help neutralize many attempts of terrorism. The government would also be able to closely monitor outlawed drug deals that are common on the streets. Additionally, security officials would be able to reduce the rate of property and violent crimes within the streets with the support of the cameras. This would be possible because these cameras can sense gunshots and immediately alert security authorities to respond. For instance, these cameras assisted authorities who were carrying out investigations on June 2006 car bombing attempt in London to identify the suspects in the shortest time possible. The same cameras also complement the efforts of investigation unit, on the bus and train explosions in July 2005 in London that left more than fifty people dead, to apprehend the suspects. With such contributions to the security, the cameras are more the enhancing of security rather than inversion of people’s privacy (Horng, 1).
On the other end, there are also cogent views as to the opposition of these security cameras. Conser et al (9) defines privacy as the right to be left alone. Those who oppose the use of these security cameras recognize the fact that privacy is the most comprehensive and valued right among those who claim to be civilized. The argument is that even the officers’ privacy would be at risk because the device would be able to record their private conversations, especially cameras that are mounted on their uniforms. Besides, their bosses could also use such cameras to supervise them. The use of these cameras is invasion of the privacy of people for the inherent reason that people need their privacy. No one would like other people to watch over them while they are going about their duties.
Those opposing the installation of these cameras also argue that the security system may give the government more power than the people. So, the single fact that the state has powers to watch over their citizens is not also justification for them to do it. With this, the government would not only monitor the movement of citizens while riding on the back of security provision, but also to persuade, discriminate and even worse off, blackmail the public. Keenan (17) notes that even in the past, the government of the USA had been misusing its surveillance power. In supporting his statement, he gives an example of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 after government had branded him as a dangerous person. According to him, this was pure government blackmail of the public. Eventually this led to social unrest within the country, which could have been more gravy if there were clips showing how the assassins killed this gentleman.
The opponents of the law enforcement cameras also say that installation of cameras in social places is an infringement of their civil liberty. Over and above the sighted reasons for rejection of these security devices, they stress that these cameras do not prevent crimes but simply report. In their argument, the issue of cameras reporting a crime has no relationship with crime prevention or reduction whatsoever. Cameras only make people feel safer, which is just and illusion of being secure. For this reason, they say that people can be safe without even the presence of roving cameras. They insist that the police officers are capable of protecting the citizens without necessarily watching over them because security agencies have been successfully doing it in the past (Smith and Sulanowski 231).
Further, these cameras are very costly to purchase and install, a single one going for over thirty thousand US dollars and would incur more money in their maintenance. This would compel the government to budget for the installation and repairs of these security gadgets. Perhaps, that is why they see the purchase of these cameras as a total waste of public money that the government could redirect to finance more developmental projects. In the long-run, these opponents project a scenario where police officers and cameras would increase in numbers to levels that may lead to a police state, an extreme situation that is not desirable at all (Matchett 205).
Flipp (105) states that the government itself has prohibited secret surveillance whether at home or in the public places. This alone serves to disapprove the installation of cameras for the reason that they go against the law, laws that they are to protect and help citizens abide to. The government will be contradicting itself saying that surveillance is illegal while at the same time continuing running cameras in the streets. While the government claims that surveillance is illegal, there still exist some secret programs that the government has purposely designed for surveillance. According to Horng (1), the public can only challenge such programs upon their discovery. The courts are always in support of the government invasion of privacy by coining a theory, and now precedence in many courts that mere surveillance can create to tangible harm. Therefore, these cameras are harm to the very constitutional principles that they are to help guard (Flipp 106).
A section of people dismiss the use of these cameras on the grounds that there is no clear legal framework on their usage. Firstly, there exists no policy that determines how long the information should be held in the database. At the present, there are cameras that automatically delete the information after every 72 hours and only retain those recordings that officers are using. There are also some databases that have records dating up to three years ago. It is a clear indication that there is lack of proper policy framework to regulate the usage of this data. Recently, there was a confusion among the public when department of homeland security wanted to create its own database corroborating the information from all other security agencies that use this security system. But they abandoned this plan after reconsidering their decision against the criticism of the public (Elias 1).
From the discussion, it is evident that the use of law enforcement is for the well being of all people by making the law enforcement personnel be a step ahead of suspects. However, there still exist some loopholes in the implementation phase of this technology that the government can easily address through proper and stringent policies. One, this technology should be designed in such a manner that the officers in the field can not manipulate, or rather edit the contents of what the camera has recorded. Two, the technologist should design these cameras in a manner that does not support mass surveillance of public, ensuring that it prevents possible capture of embarrassing situations and leakage of titillating clips. Lastly, the government should make the public aware that the cameras are used only for security purposes and create a balance between costs of these security devices and their benefits in terms of crime reduction. With the proper policy to guide their usage, these cameras can help reduce crimes while also avoid the inversion of people’s privacy.