Term Paper: Individual Right

Pages: 10 (4189 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Their concentration seemed to be on the colored people, gays and youngsters. The question was whether it was constitutional to permit video and audio surveillance of legal activity, movement and association. These certainly are troubling questions. In Louisiana, there is an explicit right to privacy in the constitution. The question will always be the criteria for placing of the cameras, monitoring of the equipment and analysis of the video. (Tilley, 1999)

The technology for recognition has also to be chosen. The safeguards against the abuse of these records have also to be decided. The storage of the records in the database has also to be analyzed. The parameters for scanning, magnification and recording of sound up to the level of a whisper also has to be determined. At a certain stage these cameras may even be misused to check on and ultimately interfere with political protests or student meetings, peer through the windows of individual homes or businesses. The cameras are extremely powerful and can be used for zooming in from distances of more than 100 yards. They can read the small print on the political leaflets that are distributed, even when it is dark as they are considered to fix all solutions to crime. (ACLU News, 1999)

The use of cameras in public places was promoted by the police department in the mid 1990s of Oakland in California. There were no attempts at cost control and very sophisticated cameras were bought. These could read the fine prints on flyers from hundreds of yards or recognize a license plate. A face could be recognized at distances of more than a mile. Later, in 1997 there was a report to the city council of Oakland by their chief of police, Joseph Samuels Jr. reported that they found no real proof that these cameras had resulted in stooping or reducing crime in any way after they were placed. Many people feel intuitively that video cameras should have a positive effect in reducing crime and that stops people from taking an objective look at it. This is the opinion of Johnny Barnes, executive director in District of Columbia for the American Civil Liberties Union, as given to the panel of the House of Representatives. But this feel good does not mean that it results in good. (Villa, and Whiting, 19, August 2002).

The people have a constitutional right to speak, but when they are recorded while speaking, then they feel intimidated. If ordinary people are treated in this manner, they will normally shy away from ordinary, legal political activity. Again when the police video records certain low income areas, or specific groups of people, it is a form of intrusive surveillance which is possibly illegal. Where to locate the cameras is often decided by an amount of social prejudice. The Police Chief in Shreveport, Mike Campbell had refused to specify the number of cameras and their placement. This apparently protects the government from the charges that the surveillance is not being used in a manner that is discriminatory or inappropriate manner. At the end of it all, these cameras are expensive. There are also other items required like monitors, video tape recorders, etc. which add the costs along with the upkeep and the personnel used for the activity. (Tilley, 1999)

Three years were spent on the analysis of the costs and benefits from cameras by the police department of Oakland, CA. They found that there was no conclusive manner of proving that prevention or reductions of crime had occurred due to the presence of video surveillance. The same results were seen by the city of Detroit. They then dismantled the operation after having used it for quite a few years. Again the sense of security gained from the cameras was felt to be a false sense of security. At the same time, there was a reduction in actual security due to the diversion of staff to man the cameras from police patrols and other activity. The camera surveillance may even end up reminding the people that they are in a high crime area and thus reduce their feeling of security. (Isnard, 2-3 August 2001)

The other effect of the cameras reducing crime in one area is that the criminals will just move to another area, and this will end up in the crime just being shifted and not reduced. In certain cases like drug sales, the action takes place not on the street but within residences or in cars. Here only pictures of the cars are available and that will not be accepted as evidence without a face shot along with it. The other aspect is that the action seen on the tape has to be interpreted. The importance of interpretation existed even in the Rodney King beating case. When the chips are infra-red and monochromatic, like the micro-chip cameras are, this factor becomes even more important.

Another problem comes from the re-use of the tapes. The tapes are erased and reused liked the TV stations to cut down on expenses. The important question is the period of preservation of the tapes, and if it is short, the usefulness of the tapes is also short. When the tapes are not monitored, this becomes even more important. The surveillance exercise directly hurts security by using up money which would otherwise have been used in direct crime fighting activities like community policing and foot patrols in the proven crime areas. Even if it is known that the cameras are being monitored, one must know who is doing the monitoring. The monitoring requires good people as they have to determine the real happenings in unclear situations, and they also have to have a very high integrity. They may often be tempted to resort to blackmail. In practice, the person monitoring is a man at the lowest end of the salary hierarchy and we all know the meaning of that in terms of motivation and skill. At the same time the work is boring and has to be done throughout the 24 hours, and this is expensive, even at the lowest end of wages, presumably. It is better if breaks are given in the monitoring, but that would also end up making it more expensive. (Tilley, 1999)

The effectiveness of these surveillance cameras has not been determined through scientific and controlled testing. This leaves their effectiveness to be determined through reputation or the opinion of the concerned police chief, but that is not a scientific proof. It has been said earlier that the law enforcement officials also have First Amendment rights, just like the ordinary citizens. The position in the Amendment is that it gives the freedom of expression. But, to be able to have the freedom of expression, one has to first gather the necessary freedom to gather the information. The purpose of the cameras is useful for only gathering information. This logic is felt to be redundant as the rights in such cases apply only against the government and not for the government. Here again the concept is clarified in the incidence of Rodney King. The surveillance camera has to be used for the protection of the citizen against the law enforcement official and not the other way. (Isnard, 2-3 August 2001)

Another approach may be taken to the whole question. One may start by saying that the effectiveness of camera surveillance by police cameras is unknown. It should be supposed that everyone knows what security is best for each person and so the final decision of the safety and security should be the concern of the individuals themselves. There was another argument also used. It was felt that the introduction of police cameras is the first in a long line of activities for psychological and social deterioration. Once started, the process will lead to further and further down a process of increasing surveillance of the ordinary citizen. This will be in two directions. More and more locations will be placed under surveillance, and also more and more types of surveillance will be used. The increasing amounts of surveillance will lead to a situation where there will be no difference in the state of an individual being public or in private. This will lead to a loss of spontaneity, increase in passivity or the acceptance of anything and everything, lack of protest from the citizens. (Villa, and Whiting, 19, August 2002).

It will also lead to good citizenship consisting of willingness to obey laws due to the involved coercion and not choice. This will lead to Puritanism or high punishments for small and insignificant crimes. This will also give the public a false sense of security, as discussed earlier. This will remove the attention of the people from the root causes of the crime, and this in turn will reduce fruitful efforts for crime reduction. Another argument against the cameras is that they would be used in a discriminatory manner. Their use is concentrated in the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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