Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Surveillance Cameras, Privacy, Freedom and Crime

Last week I was reading the comments following a Fox News Online article about the murder rate in London now exceeding the murder rate in New York City (“London Mayor Sadiq Khan targets knives as murder rate spikes:‘There is never a reason to carry a knife’”) when I saw and responded to this comment from buzzkill63:

“Obviously the 5 million cameras around London aren’t helping.”

In responding I merely commented that nothing in the article could justify such a conclusion, but then other self-styled libertarians decided to join in and immediately the discussion branched into fears about the government watching us, curfews, martial law, loss of freedom, ‘1984’ and accusations about what a weak government slave I am because I don’t take umbrage with the cameras.  On this and other posts I see a lot of what I believe to be misguided notions with respect to the concept of liberty and individual rights these days, so I thought the debate would make for interesting discussion at PT.

I’ll start by asking what’s wrong with this statement?:

“Obviously the 5 million cameras around London aren’t helping [prevent murder and other crime].”

Putting aside questions about the claim that there are “5 million” cameras in London, my problem with Buzzkill’s comment is that the article provided no basis whatsoever for concluding that security cameras have no impact on crime, and certainly such a conclusion isn’t “obvious” from reading the article.  That might have been a reasonable conclusion if we knew with certainty that every other relevant variable remained constant in London over the time period in question, but the article says no such thing and my ten seconds of research disproved that possibility.  An article on the online site, Quartz, declared:

“London is now home to more than 8.6 million people, the highest the city’s population has been since 1939. What’s more, 44% of London now consists of black and ethnic minorities, compared to only 28.9% in 2001. That’s according to the Greater London Authority, which serves the London mayor’s office [via the BBC].”

That was written in February, 2015, thus the increase in black and ethnic minorities represents a 52% increase in just 14 years.  What do you suppose would happen to the crime rate in any major American city if the minority population were to increase more than 50% in just 14 years?  Well since certain minorities tend to commit crime at a much higher rate than non-minorities, the crime rate would likely surge with that population, and without security cameras the crime rate in London might be considerably higher than it is.  We just don’t know.  That’s the point, and that’s why no “obvious” conclusion could be drawn.  Buzzkill63 clearly had a pre-existing bias against security cameras and despite the absence of evidence supporting his claim was attempting to use the article to spread that bias.

Now please allow me to make a few points:

  • Yes it’s true that in this modern age you’re likely to be on camera a good portion of any time that you’re away from your home; however, the vast majority of security cameras are owned by private citizens who are protecting their homes and property and private businesses that want to provide security for their employees, their customers and their property. Wouldn’t you agree that these private individuals and businesses have the right to monitor and protect their own property, and that any attempt to restrict it is an infringement of that right?
  • As the guardian/manager of assets that belong to the public (i.e. you and me), the government has the right and the duty, on our behalf, to ensure the security of that property, and one of the best ways of doing so is with surveillance cameras. I am as wary as anyone of Big Brother and creeping totalitarianism, but I believe it’s unwise to attempt to mitigate that concern by depriving ourselves of the critical right to protect our public property.
  • Regardless of how widespread the use of security cameras is or will be, the government still has no right to install cameras in our homes or private businesses without a warrant. The growing use of cameras for security elsewhere doesn’t change that reality one iota.
  • No one has the right to an expectation of privacy once they leave their home and enter the public domain or go onto private property. Sorry if that reality bothers you but that’s how it is and always has been.  People are not going to avert their eyes or sacrifice their own security for the sake of your unreasonable demand for privacy beyond the borders of your own property, and to ask them to do so would yet again be an infringement upon their rights.
  • Video footage from security cameras has become an increasingly crucial tool in identifying and convicting scores of criminals who actually do pose a real threat to your rights. I see this all the time in my ongoing, unofficial research on crime and punishment (which consists of me watching every other true crime show that’s produced).  A 2009 article in The Telegraph states that:

“The first study of its kind into the effectiveness of surveillance cameras revealed that almost every Scotland Yard murder inquiry uses their footage as evidence.  In 90 murder cases over a one year period, CCTV was used in 86 investigations, and senior officers said it helped to solve 65 cases by capturing the murder itself on film, or tracking the movements of the suspects before or after an attack.”

My DVR schedule includes a program called “See No Evil,” a true-crime show that is entirely devoted to murder cases that were solved with the use of security cameras.  Each time I watch I marvel at how amazing it is that these invaluable tools for crime prevention are providing the added gift of helping to identify predators in our society who might otherwise never have been caught and convicted and might have gone on to hurt others.  We will never know how many lives have been saved or crimes prevented.  That’s the irony that allows people like the “libertarians” at Fox or the ACLU to profess that “video surveillance has notbeen proven effective,” an argument which is eerily reminiscent to the claims that there’s no evidence that gun ownership deters crime.  You can’t document something that doesn’t happen, right?

The “libertarians” accused me of being willing to trade my rights for security.

“What right of yours is being infringed by security cameras?” I asked.

“The right to privacy,” someone responded.

That’s an absurd interpretation of that constitutional protection.  The right to privacy does not mean you have the right to be invisible to others.  This is why I lose patience with “libertarians.”  Making absurd demands for “rights” that don’t exist and that can’t possibly be enforced does not further the cause of freedom, and the first clue to that ought to be when you find yourself on the same side as the Left’s best friend, the ACLU (who, incidentally, never seems to be offended by videos that show cops doing things they shouldn’t).

Finally I’d like to point out that just like DNA evidence, evidence from security cameras can be crucial for exonerating innocent people who are wrongfully accused because unlike people, the cameras don’t lie.  I get that it’s discomfiting to know that you’re on camera so much of the time, but when I asked one of the “libertarians” what they were afraid the cameras might see he cheekily replied, “I might be picking a wedgie.”  What silly people would we be to undermine our real rights to protect ourselves, our families and our property all to ensure that no stranger with a camera ever catches you “picking a wedgie?”

I’d love to know your thoughts.


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