LETTER: The right to privacy

“Government video cameras are dangerous for two reasons. (1) They change the nature of policing by taking power away from citizens, and (2) they restrict or eliminate the possibility for alone time out of doors.

(1) Video surveillance radically strengthens the power of the state. Without cameras, victims or nearby people who empathize with victims are the ones who report crimes. This is an incredibly important natural safeguard on police power, because people can choose to not report violations of unjust laws. This is why black people could sometimes escape slavery, unions could organize, and people today can smoke marijuana without going to prison. Video cameras destroy this natural safeguard. When the government records all activities outside of the home, the state can pick and choose which crimes it wants to go after, and it can easily prosecute innocent people who normally would have been protected by their fellow citizens.

That shift is incredibly important. Any governmental abuses will be greatly intensified when the police see everything outside homes. The power to turn in criminals should stay with victims and concerned citizens. Otherwise governmental abuses will become much harder to combat.

(2) Video surveillance makes life worse by eliminating privacy. While misinformed people love to say that we have no expectation of privacy in public, this is not correct. We always have had privacy in public. Public property includes every street, every park, every beach, and nearly every place you spend time when you are not at home or working. Almost everywhere, it has been possible to be by yourself without other people watching, or to meet with a group of people without policemen observing you. With widespread video surveillance, that part of life is gone, and being alone out of doors is impossible.”

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Updated: June 28, 2009 — 3:45 pm

1 Comment

  1. Case in point: Two police officers are dispatched to Farnum Park/Field after cameras observed a man drinking beer in a public park. Is this the best use of the cameras and the officers’ time?

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