Individual Rights Versus Public Order Analysis

Individual Rights VS. Public Order

Individual right – the right to privacy VS. public order – the need to use surveillance Cameras to deter crime.

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The Surveillance cameras are regularly connected to machines for taping the proceedings, but nobody looks at these tapes unless something untoward happens. These cameras are on the march and have spread to gas stations, ATMs, mini-marts, sporting events as also on the streets. After the attack on 9/11 on the World Trade Center, has led to more people trying to buy safety through these cameras. There are a great number of the Surveillance cameras now on Times Square as that is viewed to be the next major target for terrorist attacks. The sales of these systems are now the highest among all types of electronic security products. This fact has come out from the study conducted by Security Sales & Integration, a magazine in Torrance, California.

These cameras are now being made more modern and even more sophisticated. It has become easier to watch people on city streets, in mass transit and even within sports stadiums. They have now been placed on top of many government office buildings, schools and business buildings throughout the country, including Washington DC. It is believed that such installation will cut down crime and ease congestion of traffic. This has also been reflected by drop in road accidents between 3 to 21% in the six cities of California that have adopted this measure, as per the report of that state’s auditor. To test out the effectiveness of the cameras, they were switched off for sometime and with this the accidents at the intersections climbed back. These studies are gradually forcing others to adopt this technology. There is increasing progress throughout the world in crime and technology, and this is compelling the officials to depend on video surveillance in increasing numbers for enforcement of laws. (Etzioni, April 27, 2000)

The logic comes from the fact that presence of surveillance cameras makes it easier for the police to catch the criminals. This helps in reduction of crime through both arresting as well as deterring the criminals. This may also be saving money in the long run. These arguments are being commonly accepted especially after the examples just quoted. The supporters are trying to show the high effectiveness of the cameras. The supporters feel that the cameras show as to the criminal who did it. There were initial fears in England over the loss of privacy due to video surveillance, but now the technique has wide public support. (Villa, and Whiting, 19, August 2002).

The method has reduced crime up to 50% in some areas. Many violent criminals are deterred by the simple presence of the camera. This is just the simple fear of being watched, and the criminal knowing that he is being watched. It also helps the general public have a greater sense of being secure through the reassurance of being under surveillance. This effect is greater in areas where people have more fear of becoming victims of violent crime. The feeling of safety and security is essential to the innocent majority who visit these areas. This type of surveillance will make it easier for ambulances, fire engines, security guards and police to move to the troubled areas. (Horne, 1998)

When the locations of these cameras are known, the location of the crime or similar incidents can be found out accurately. Their deterrence of trouble in known trouble spots is known. A number of cameras are placed to watch the fronts of pubs and night clubs. This watch kept the hooligans from causing trouble in these areas. When the cameras are placed in retail stores it deters shoplifting. The costs of shoplifting have to be added to the prices otherwise, and this increases prices to customers. Uses of surveillance cameras in these positions have given reasons for their use. According to the supporters of the use of surveillance cameras, it is only the deficiencies of state law enforcement that causes the video surveillance by public. (Horne, 1998)

These can be solved through the direct purchase of protection by the residents of such areas from private agencies, but the state does not want to ease out the regulations, and is trying instead to pass on the troubles due to its own incapability. There have also been feelings that the use of surveillance cameras would lead to less police brutality. It would also make it easier for the government officers to exercise their First Amendment rights. This of course is dependent on the feeling that the First Amendment gives rights to the law enforcement officials like the ordinary citizens. The right is one of the freedoms of expression, and for this purpose, one will first have to gather information, and these cameras will make it easier for them to collect the information. (Horne, 1998)

The argument for surveillance is that when people know they are being watched, they will stop from committing crime. This is supposed to be simple common sense. This is the logic by which it is argued that cameras will stop crime. But counter argument is that the criminals are not always wise or sane, and because of this they may not possess common sense. The argument against their effectiveness springs from the cases of robberies that occur even when cameras are present, and as an example there is a bank with a camera that was robbed six times. Other arguments highlight the improvement of public morale through the greater sense of security given by the cameras. Some feel that this is probably the greatest benefit of the cameras. (Isnard, 2-3 August 2001)

However counter arguments against this say that this sense of security does not have any solid base to stand on. There is also evidence that the apparent benefits of these surveillance systems disappear after some time, and that the type of crime may change where the surveillance may not be of much use and even the criminals may change. For this it is felt that the effectiveness of cameras in the long-term prevention of crime is doubtful. There a large number of existing studies that support the concept that the benefits of cameras will fade after some time. This is an innovative method and creates an uncertainty in the mind of criminals for some time. These doubts are backed up by the publicity that is given to the new measure as making the crime more risky or difficult. As time goes on, the criminal develops different skills and confidence to successfully commit the crime (Tilley 1999).

In everyday life, there are now cameras which are perched 15 feet above street level in Baltimore. These check every square foot of a six block area in downtown, and help the police to monitor people’s activities according to those in favor of using the surveillance cameras. People who support the system say that the watchful eyes of the camera will, in itself, prevent a lot of crime. Even when the crime does occur, the police will immediately know about it and take corrective action. The basic problem is that there must be available staff to watch the monitors. The departments are only placing already busy dispatchers for watching these monitors. The result is that the cameras do little to stop crime and the law-enforcement agencies have taken the decision that their monitoring of the canters is not proving to be cost effective. On the other hand, the private businesses are looking at these cameras to stop employee theft and provide documents for their insurance claims. The law enforcement officials are thus undecided on whether these cameras in public places reduce crimes. It is felt now that these do not stop crimes by themselves. They may discourage the commission of crimes in the area where they are placed, but the same crimes are just committed elsewhere. (Villa, and Whiting, 19, August 2002).

Thus I would support the argument that surveillance cameras are of no use in detecting crime and will not be able to stop crime successfully. The using of video cameras has been stopped by a number of cities due to the absence of any concrete results as also complaints from the general public. In Times Square, expensive surveillance through cameras had been done for 22 months, but according to news reports resulted in only 10 arrests. If this is the case in New York City, then how can the use of already positioned cameras in Shreveport work? Or, for that matter in New Orleans? In Miami Beach they have been given up as ineffective. In the case of London, there was an installation of 150,000 cameras for the reduction of crime. (Isnard, 2-3 August 2001)

In practice, certain incidents of violent crime increased after the installation of the network was finished. This was a costly venture in the United Kingdom and was criticized by the press, academic researchers and some law enforcement authorities. The staff in the studio was found to be violating civil liberties through this chain. 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 poorer sections like the black or Hispanic sections of the town. Again, they would be picking up for scrutiny the individuals belonging to the minority sections. Thus there does not seem to be any balancing benefits from the use of the surveillance cameras. (Armstrong, Norris, 1999)

The greatest appeal against this method of police surveillance is the individual’s right to privacy. The collection of personal information through any regulation is the key issue in protection of privacy, as it is felt that will prevent the unnecessary surveillance of certain individuals. In these concerns about privacy, the arguments advanced were about that somebody was always watching. This does not however realize the difference of the lack of privacy due to surveillance cameras with lack of individual privacy. The normal harms of lack of privacy come from the lack of individual privacy with certain harmful effects, but this is not the same about the lack of privacy due to surveillance of the cameras. This is not a loss of fundamental rights. The arguments here are about the concepts and definitions of privacy. When one talks about the surveillance cameras violating the individuals right to privacy, one has to first know what “privacy” means and what rights we have in that area. (Tilley, 1999)

For this purpose, it is not very important to look at the actual physical world and judge the likely future events, i.e. whether the cameras will finally stop the criminals. A more hypothetical situation has to be looked into. In that, there would be only the abstract methods of giving real life or made up examples and logical analogies. These will test the definitions or principles. The first question to be answered on this issue is regarding as to what constitutes privacy. Immediately after asking the question we probably realize that there was probably a more important question to be asked as to what could be rights pertaining to privacy. However the asking of both these questions involves a basic assumption. That is of the existence of a right answer to these questions which be agreed to universally, at least after a lot of thought. At the same time, it is quite possible that individuals may have their own ideas about the concept of right privacy. (Davies, 1998)

This means that there is a variable description of undue invasion of privacy to different people. One person thought that “A” was the limit, while another thought “B” was the limit and so on. It is also possible that these differences in these views are irreconcilable. Then what can one really do, if these individuals or groups of people have views of the right of privacy that conflicts with the interests of others. On this subject, Federal Appeals Court Judge, J. Braxton Craven suggested that individuals should be let alone, and this is the protection we can provide to the activities of humans, which is their right to privacy. In America, there are increasing chances that this right will soon be politicized, and as a result, lost. This may be a very dangerous thing to happen when this method is used to intimidate people and remove their right of free speech. (Etzioni, April 27, 2000)

This has already happened earlier in the 60s when the FBI monitored citizens who participated in civil disobedience. The cameras would then be interfering on the constitutional rights. Thus, these cameras would result in a chilling effect, and cause different reactions upon different people. In this connection, when we start relying for security on video cameras, it shows that there is now an ongoing clash between technology and our right to privacy. There may be an overriding recommendation that even if you do not know what your privacy rights are, give them up for whatever they are worth, at least to the extent required for the putting up of surveillance cameras, if we want to have a police force. (The Globe and Mail, 21 June 2003)

Even now the law enforcement officials have doubts about this technology. The legal analysts are worried in addition about the possible abuse of the facility by the watchers. The technology itself is readymade for misuse. The pictures in the form of the digitized images coming through the MPD’s surveillance cameras are freely re-transmittable to other media. They can pass them on in turn. At any of these points, these can even be stored up for future misuse. The cameras themselves do not have biases – racial, gender, ethnic, etc. The operators of the cameras may not be bias free. When the police officers make traffic stops they can be profiling, but that can be monitored. The officers selecting their targets for close observation by the cameras may not be so easily monitored. There was a study on this in the University of Hull in Britain. According to them, the black people had a two and a half times greater chance of being monitored than their share in the population. There are no clear laws regarding the persons who would be watching the cameras, and the method of disposal of the tapes. (Villa, and Whiting, 19, August 2002).

Through out the world, there is the expenditure of billions of dollars on these systems of surveillance cameras, yet there has been very little proof that they are being successful in the combating or stoppage of crime. And, obviously there is no measure of cost effectiveness in doing so. This is resulting in a large number of cities in the U.S. using these cameras for enforcement of general law and order. This is spite of the fact that they have no proof that the cameras are effective. Some of them have already realized this and abandoned these cameras. It is however quite obvious to most that police is needed as the part of any community. On the other side, it is known that only trusting relationships between the police and the people can stop crimes and catch the criminals. The police and the citizens must work together on the reduction of crime. Safety will not come from the installation of some cameras. At the same time, it should be noted that there is continuous and increasing intrusion of the state in our daily lives every few years.


ACLU News (1999) Second Attempt Fails To Install Spy Cams On Oakland Streets. ALCU-NC News.

Armstrong, G; Norris, C. (1999) The Maximum Surveillance Society: The Rise Of CCTV. Berg. Oxford and New York.

Author Unknown (21 June 2003) Somebody’s Watching You in NYC. The Globe and Mail

Davies, S.G. (1998) The Case Against: CCTV Should Not Be Introduced. International Journal of Risk, Security and Crime Prevention Vol. 1. No. 4 PP 327-331

Etzioni, Amitai. (April 27, 2000) Balancing privacy, public good / / acs-EE2001 USA Today, Section: News; Pg. 17A

Horne, C.J. (1998) The Case For: CCTV Should Be Introduced. International Journal of Risk, Security and Crime Prevention Vol 1, No. 4 pp.317-326

Isnard, Adrienne. (2-3 August 2001) Can Surveillance Cameras Be Successful In Preventing Crime and Controlling Anti-social Behaviors? Townsville City Council Paper presented at The Character, Impact and Prevention of Crime in Regional Australia Conference convened by the Australian Institute of Criminology and held in Townsville

Tilley, N. (1999) Why’s And Wherefores In Evaluating The Effectiveness Of CCTV. International Journal of Risk, Security and Crime Prevention, Vol 2 No. 3 pp.175-185

Villa, Judi and Whiting, Brent. (19, August 2002). Chance case joins debate on cameras

The Arizona Republic

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