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More Public Surveillance Means Less Liberty

Opinion Editorial
October 27, 2009

Author: Lance Newman

The use of public surveillance cameras to fight crime has been a heated topic for quite some time. The issue was reignited last August when the city of Denver used federal funds to purchase an additional fifty High Activity Location Observation (HALO) cameras from the original thirteen cameras at $25,000 a pop to fight crime. Increasing the number of surveillance cameras may create a marginally safer environment, but at a significant cost to civil liberty.

The pervasiveness of security cameras throughout the city of Denver is creating a growing concern for individual liberty. The ACLU has taken up the public surveillance issue, saying that HALO cameras are a violation of the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act. The activities recorded by the cameras are used exclusively by public safety and law enforcement officials. Hard working Coloradans contributed their time and money in the form of tax dollars to make the camera installations possible. Therefore, it would only be fair for contributors to have the option of seeing what they paid for. But, that’s the not the view held by many government officials.

In response to a records request made by CBS4 in February, the Denver Department of Safety refused to hand over video recordings of a brawl that erupted in downtown Denver on February 14. A representative for the Department of Safety was quoted as saying “Because you are not affiliated with a public safety or law enforcement agency, your request for access to any videotapes obtained from a HALO camera is accordingly denied.” So HALO recordings can be viewed solely by the government? Because someone does not work for public safety or law enforcement, they somehow don’t have the credentials to view what they diligently worked for? Equal rights? Well, if someone can tell you that you can’t reap the benefits of something that YOU rightfully paid for, contrary to your wishes, then that would make some people “more equal” than others. John Edwards was half correct when he said there are two Americas. Not the Edwards version of the rich and the poor, but rather the governed and those who govern.

What type of message does the Department of Safety’s response send to society? Is the Denver Department of Safety under the assumption that government has the divine authority to watch our every move simply because it MIGHT reduce some crime? Having cameras in private homes might reduce crime as well. Maybe the Denver government can do us all a favor by installing a few cameras in each of our homes so that we’re deterred from playing loud music too late. The ubiquitous surveillance power Denver is pursuing will simply widen the gap between the two classes in society, the government and the citizenry.

If you need any more evidence, you don’t need to look any further than the case of Great Britain. Great Britain has one camera for every seven citizens. Last October several British newspapers reported that Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government was working on a plan to monitor every phone call, website visit, text message, and email in the country, entering the information into an enormous database that would be used to catch terrorists, pedophiles, and scam artists.

The Revolutionary War was fought because Americans wanted to break away from a government that trampled civil liberties, not create one. Adding more HALO cameras will undoubtedly transform our nation into a much more regulated one. If we want to preserve what limited civil liberties we have left, the government should seriously consider thinking twice about installing additional cameras. Ensuring that HALO recordings are more readily available to the general public would also be a considerable step toward ensuring that public surveillance is being used only for legitimate public safety reasons, and the preservation of individual freedoms.

Lance Newman attends college at SUNY Buffalo and was a summer intern at the Independence Institute.