Do Boston Bombings Make a Case For More Camera Surveillance & Why Increased Spying is Bad

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Just last month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Americans should get used to “more visibility and less” privacy,” because in about five years “there’ll be cameras every place.” In light of the recent attack on the Boston Marathon Monday, lawmakers are making a case for more widespread use of this technology, which has concerned privacy advocates.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism, on MSNBC Tuesday said he thinks more cameras in public spaces are needed.

“We have to stay ahead of the terrorists and I do know in New York, the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, which is based on cameras, the outstanding work that results from that,” he said on the show. “So yes, I do favor more cameras. They’re a great law enforcement method and device. And again, it keeps us ahead of the terrorists, who are constantly trying to kill us.”

WTOP reported Auroa, Colo., native Juana Cerna, who is attending American University, saying she is in support of more cameras in public.

“I think it’s a good idea,” she told WTOP this week. “I come from Aurora where the shooting was and I lost a friend.”

She included that with the violent events of late, people might feel safer with more surveillance.

In addition to safety, footage is useful in investigations as well. The FBI and other law enforcement investigating Boston’s case are relying on video from various sources as they try to piece together evidence as to what happened Monday near the finish line of the marathon.

CBS News reported the ACLU recording an estimated 147 cameras in the Boston area as of 2007 and an additional 402 on the city’s buses and subways. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani told CBS that surveillance footage could be immensely useful in Boston, as it was in the investigation of London’s 7/7 bombings.

“They caught those guys by the next day because London is virtually a Hollywood studio, cameras all over the place. I went to the headquarters late that night and they had already picked the guys out, they had them in freeze frames, the guys that they thought did it,” Giuliani said.

Although surveillance in the name of public safety might not be questioned in and of itself, it is how the technology could also be used that has privacy experts concerned. TheBlaze recently reported the analysis of Washington University in St. Louis law professor Neil Richards who cautioned the “dangers of surveillance.”

He said various forms of digital and public surveillance “menaces our intellectual privacy and it gives the watcher a power advantage over the watched, which can be used for blackmail, persuasion or discrimination.”

As for these privacy concerns over pervasive surveillance held by some, King said there is not an expectation of privacy for people in public places and on the street.

“Anyone can look at you, can see you, can watch what you’re doing,” he said. “A camera just makes it more sophisticated, but it’s no different from your neighbor looking out the window at you or a police officer looking at you walking down the street.”

GPS and cellphone tracking. Facial recognition cameras. Drones that can tell if someone is armed. Digital spying. All are among emerging technologies and techniques that are increasingly being used by everyone from law enforcement to clothing stores.

Those concerned about individual privacy often have a strong reaction to the use of such technology, but privacy law expert Neil Richards said people don’t “really know why” a lot of surveillance is bad.

“We only have a vague intuition about it, which is why courts don’t protect it. We know we don’t like it, and that it has something to do with privacy, but beyond that, the details can be fuzzy,” the Washington University in St. Louis law professor said, according to the university’s newswebsite.

The main dangers are that it “menaces our intellectual privacy and it gives the watcher a power advantage over the watched, which can be used for blackmail, persuasion, or discrimination,” he said.

Richards’ thoughts in the piece titled “The Dangers of Surveillance,” which will be published in the next issue of the Harvard Law Review but are available here for download, detail how courts likely dismiss challenges brought against surveillance programs because of the idea that “mere surveillance creates no harms.”

But ultimately, society as a whole, Richards writes lacks an understanding of “why (and when) government surveillance is harmful.”

Richards believes:

  • First, we must recognize that surveillance transcends the public-private divide;
  • Second, we must recognize that secret surveillance is illegitimate, and prohibit the creation of any domestic surveillance programs whose existence is secret;
  • Third, we should recognize that total surveillance is illegitimate and reject the idea that it is acceptable for the government to record all Internet activity without authorization; and
  • Fourth, we must recognize that surveillance is harmful.

He wrote that intellectual activities can be snuffed in a surveillance society as it might deter “eccentric” or so-called deviant behavior. Calling up George Orwell’s “1984″ as an example, Richards said the classic novel shows how the “fear of being watched causes people to act and think differently from the way they might otherwise.”

In his paper, Richards writes that secret surveillance and total surveillance are both illegitimate.

“Surveillance can sometimes be necessary, even helpful. But unconstrained surveillance, especially of our intellectual activities, threatens a cognitive revolution that cuts at the core of the free minds that our political institutions presuppose,” Richards wrote in conclusion, noting though that the laws constraining it have been “whittled away” by several changes in the last two decades, of which technology is one of them. “By thus recognizing the harms of surveillance, and crafting our laws accordingly, we can obtain many of its benefits without sacrificing our vital civil liberties or upending the power balance between individuals on the one hand and companies and governments on the other.”

Source: The Blaze.com