Friday, September 09, 2005

Just because you're paranoid; Don't mean they're not after you.

According to a report in the SJ-R, the city is considering erecting four video cameras downtown to curb some of the lawlessness that occurs after-hours. I’m not sure if the extent of the problem warrants such action, there seems to be some difference of opinion, but if it is deemed significant then this seems to be a reasonable solution.

The reaction to this proposal should be lively with many personal freedom activists taking to their bullhorns on talk radio and the editorial pages. I’ve heard their litany of complaints and dire warnings before and don’t find them the least bit persuasive.

If a person chucks a bottle through a plate glass window and is seen by police or is reported by a citizen, that person is a vandal. Am I to believe if that same person was clever enough to look both ways to see if the coast is clear before letting fly, but is then caught on camera, that person is now a fourth amendment adherent? A criminal is a criminal whether caught in the act by the police, surveillance cameras, or the GPS devices that will secretly be implanted behind everyone’s ear lobes by 2010 (oops, I wasn’t supposed to mention that. My bad.)

Those that have the deepest seeded fears of surveillance cameras seem to overstate their importance in society. To those: Yes, your family and friends love you and are interested in your daily activities, but no one else really cares. They’re certainly not eying you suspiciously, wondering if that tome you're toting in the Prairie Archives bag is some sort of anti-government manifesto. You won’t unwittingly become a character in a reality television series. Still shots of you picking your nose won’t wind up on billboards. And the government won’t be building a case against you as a subversive if the camera catches you exiting whatever downtown watering hole is currently serving as the backroom meeting place of the Springfield branch of the communist party. The slippery slope may be alive in theory, but your sliding down it is a figment of an overworked imagination.

London is reported to have over 500,000 surveillance cameras and a person about in public there can expect to be filmed upwards of 300 times a day. Yet it hasn’t resulted in an Orweillian nightmare for its people; it has simply pushed the thugs and cut-throats deeper into the darkest recesses of the city. That’s good. They less space they have to operate, the better.

As I’ve state here before, I’m a proponent of using cameras to cast a watchful eye at busy intersections where many treat red lights as a personal affront to their right to sleep-in and still get to work on time. If they can also be used to capture on tape the criminal antics of drunken revelers, where’s the downside? I only wish that we could get a picture of their reaction when the ticket arrives in the mail or the police arrive with the warrant.

More Photo-Ops

One of the many things that I despise about politics is the transparent photo ops that pols rabidly pursue so that they have some dramatic shots to use in their campaign materials. They all end looking completely staged and ridiculous. Remember Bush in the flight suit and Dukakis in the tank?

That said, if the picture on the front page of today’s SJ-R ends up in a brochure for Chuck Redpath when he runs for the 99th District House seat next year, then he deserves all of the goodwill and positive feelings that it can evoke in voters. I wouldn’t even be put off if I found out that he hired Sean Penn’s personal photographer, after the talented actor’s rescue dinghy sprung a leak, to shoot a photo documentary of his entire stay.


AmericanPatriotLegion said...

I must disagree with you on this issue. The simple fact is that this constitutes a clear breaking of the 4th amendment.

While I agree that the person in your example is a criminal survalience of this sort is not Constitutional in any way shape or form. If this issue is really that bad then they should beef up police patrols through the area, but to conduct round the clock surviellance of a public street is a "big brother" program and is a very dangerouse proposal in terms of citizens rights.

Dave H said...

Just a little 4th Amendment lesson for the previous comment. There is no Right to Privacy on a public way when it comes to video. Recording of audio conversations though is a different situation but does not apply here.

Anonymous said...

Dave H. is correct in that one has no expectation of privacy in a public place. Perhaps Bill Lewis AKA americanpatriotlegion does suffer from some form of paranoia. He sure doesn't know beans about the constitution.
While I have no problem with the city using video cameras to record the goings on in the downtown area, what concerns me is the use of Homeland Security funds to pay for the installation of remote video cameras to keep watch on a bunch of drunken vandals urinating in the street. Is this really what congress intended for the money to be spent on? I doubt it. Then again, if the tax dollars are coming from Washington, maybe the county won't raise our property taxes to pay for such foolishness.

JeromeProphet said...

Mr. Lewis I believe your critics have the best of you. To the best of my knowledge we have no constitutional expectation of privacy in a public area.

However, Mr. Lewis' concern is EXTREMELY important in the long run.

We can chuckle at Dan's little joke about implants, but the point is with the pace of the development of technology what we have historically considered our right to privacy will continue to be eroded until one day - those living in this free society will have no expectation of privacy whatsoever.

Does any one of us trust our politicians to do the right thing.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and if a dictator grabbed power, and installed cameras on every street corner we'd all surely know what it was for - but if we see it coming slowly, and believe it to be an innocent intrusion the effect is just the same.