Monday, September 26, 2011

Cops and cameras----Modern peeping toms?

The Star Tribune had a story today about the Minneapolis Police Department purchasing several roll-em cameras on poles which can be placed conveniently in areas throughout the city.  What the article failed to discuss is the right to privacy and anonymity in a public place.

The article states there is no law that bans or regulates recording in public places.  I take it meaning a city ordinance or state law.  In that respect, the reporter is right, but should there not be.

I believe there is a right to privacy in a public place.  This means there is behavior and actions that should be respected by government as a zone of privacy when it uses camera surveillance.  An example of that behavior or action are as follows as stated by Robert Ellis Smith, Publisher of Privacy Journal.

What's 'Public' Can Be Private

"There are many activities in public that are entitled to privacy protection, according to the clear implications of previous federal court holdings in the U.S. These include: going to and from a house of worship, an abortion clinic, or a medical facility; holding hands or embracing affectionately in public; participating in a political demonstration or wearing political symbols; reading a book or a magazine; mediating or praying, and perhaps chatting on a cell phone in a way that is audible nearby. The right to vote in the U.S. and Canada may be interpreted to prohibit videotaping citizens as they visit a polling place." 

Cameras have been a part of our lives for decades.  We would see occasionally 25 years ago a camera at the bank, maybe at a "secure" area, but not as prevalent as today. The Target Corporation gift of surveillance cameras in downtown Minneapolis to the multiple cameras used by the St Paul police left over from the National GOP Convention in 2008, our law enforcement agencies have their cameras rolling and recording.  This does even include the feed that some agencies may have connected from private cameras.

Technology is changing the dynamics of how law enforcement does its business, but at what cost to our liberty and privacy interests?  I do not oppose technology being used to keep us safe, but I believe it is important though for law enforcement to be accountable, transparent, and open as to what the new "toys" do.

There can and should be public discussion of the who, what, where, when, why, and how of this kind of  public surveillance.

What are the safeguards for specific tracking of individuals and cars?  About the use of the "zoom" or magnification on subjects of those powerful cameras?  Because of the sophistication of the video cameras featured in the story or used now by the various police departments and sheriffs, How does facial recognition technology play into the video surveillance system?  Are the cameras tuned up with behavioral recognition software as the University of Minnesota has done?  Do they have audio recording possibilities?  Are there audits?

Do public entities have the policies, rules, or laws that should govern these kind of surveillance systems that are improving daily as technology gets better?

We need to recognize our privacy/self-autonomy liberty and interests so that there is not "an imbalance of power between the government as "watcher" and the citizens as "subject".

(Quoted part of last paragraph is from Melissa Ngo, Senior Counsel of EPIC 
in comments submitted to the Department of Homeland Security in 2008)

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