Video Surveillance: Surrendering Privacy For Safety?


Camera and other forms of surveillance have taken hold across the United States. After the April Boston Marathon bombings, the speed of identification and apprehension of suspects in the case was largely due to good police work and good video. Surveillance systems are here to stay — what is the long term impact of a wired and watched society?

  • A New York Times / CBS News poll of 964 people on cell phone and landlines conducted five days after the arrest of the surviving suspect to the Boston Marathon bombings found 78 percent of respondents supported video surveillance of public places. From one view, it appears Americans are willing to trade off privacy for security.
  • From a larger view, while properly conducted video surveillance is a factor in identifying criminals and criminal activity, it is one of several technological advances eroding protections provided by the Fourth Amendment.

In 2005, the federal REAL ID Act was passed requiring uniform driver license information that allows states and agencies to exchange identification information via computer database. Surveillance technologies that include the ability to read radio frequency identification tags (RFID), gather audio, create and read face and iris scans are underway in the public and private sectors. These technologies effectively spell the end of privacy in public.

As emerging technologies are coupled with mobile devices like smartphones, your every public move could be plotted, known, sold for marketing purposes or used against you in a court of law if Fourth Amendment and other important rights fail to protect you.

Public safety is paramount, but so is privacy. In Great Britain where widespread video surveillance has been in place for years, a significant reduction in crime or fear of crime was not found. But the privacy and right to move freely in public is lost.

Threats abound. Strong, correct steps must be taken to protect society on all fronts. Before a rush to implement smarter, more invasive technology, consideration and legislation must be used to balance and protect the important civil rights on which our country was founded.

Posted in Constitutional Rights | Tagged Boston marathon bombing, cell phone searches, right to privacy, surveillance