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Are Law Enforcement Cameras an Invasion of Privacy? Essay

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Updated: May 27th, 2020

Video surveillance by use of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is quickly becoming a favorite technology tool for law enforcement agencies. Many developed countries have already demonstrated that video surveillance by police officers is a critical component of the provision of comprehensive public safety. To benefit from the effectiveness afforded by video surveillance, Police departments have started placing cameras in public areas with increasing frequency. This prevalence in video surveillance installation has led to privacy concerns by privacy advocates and concerned citizens.

The question has been raised whether it is possible to enjoy the enhanced security benefits of cameras without compromising individual privacy. Individuals who view cameras as an invasion of privacy have a legitimate concern since cameras record all activities that people engage in while in public places therefore creating the sense of a surveillance state. The large-scale installation of cameras can be justified if it is carried out to enhance public security while bearing the privacy concerns of the citizens.

Law enforcement cameras use leads to better crime control by making it possible for police officers to engage in proactive security and risk management. Cameras give police officers a chance to detect crime before it happens or as it is happening and react to it (Dubin 51). This increased efficiency is desirable since it enhances the security of the society. In addition to this, cameras help the police to allocate resources in the most efficient manner. By analyzing the data available in the video databases, the police force can identify areas of high crime (Xenakis 574). They can then prioritize and dedicate more resources to these areas therefore reducing crime rates and contributing to the public safety.

Cameras increase the effectiveness of police officers in serving and protecting the society. Xenakis elaborates that using CCTV, the police officers can watch over multiple locations from one point (574). Video surveillance increases the capacity of the police force to deter crime without necessitating an increase in the number of police officers. Cameras also allow for quick response in case of an incident since officers know precisely where to go. Surveys indicate that the public approves of government agencies or police departments installing video cameras in public places to prevent major crime or assist in the solving of the crimes if they do occur (Yesil 401). In addition to this, cameras play a significant role in deterring crime. The mere presence of a camera is likely to reduce crime since criminals are unlikely to engage in illegal activities if they know that they are being watched (Dubin 51). Public safety is therefore ensured by the availability of many surveillance cameras in the public environment.

The footage obtained from the cameras is protected by the law and it cannot be used in a way that violates the civil liberties of the citizens. Yesil elaborates that surveillance cameras are not meant to watch the public but rather to watch out for it and hence preserve public safety (401). Measures have therefore been put in place to ensure that data collected from the public through cameras is protected. Xenakis reveals that there are laws in place to ensure that the recorded CCTV footage is not accessible to unauthorized personnel (592). Requests for the footage can be made under federal or state law for criminal or civil litigation purposes. There are regulations in place to ensure that the footage cannot be offered for use in trivial civil litigation. This protects the integrity of the CCTV program and ensures that the privacy of citizens is not violated.

There is a possibility that surveillance cameras can be used to legitimize the over policing and excessive surveillance of marginalized groups in the society. Sanders and Hannem warn that while it might appear that cameras are used to provide police officers with information to engage in risk assessment and risk management, in practice these technologies are used to justify policing of marginalized people and places (390). By relying on video surveillance, law enforcement agencies shift from responding to crime and instead focus on policing identified risk populations. The privacy of individuals in these areas is ignored as the areas are labeled “danger zones” and a risk to public security. This concern can be addressed by requiring police officers to install cameras in a uniform manner.

The use of many cameras has lead to a breach in individual privacy rights if these tools are used invasively. Eijkman and Weggemans warn that there is a real threat to the individual right to privacy as the government engages in extensive collection, recording, storage, and analysis of information about individuals as they go about their private lives (143). This is especially the case if there are no clear guidelines as to how the information collected will be used and who will have access to it. In recognition of these concerns, the country has set up laws that govern the use of surveillance cameras. Xenakis explains that there are laws and regulations that govern the existing CCTV programs in States all over the US (543). These regulations are specially constructed to ensure that cameras are implemented by law enforcement agencies in a way that makes the community safer without failing to protect the civil liberties of the civilians (543).

Enhanced public security is a desirable outcome for citizens and law enforcement officers alike. In an attempt to reach this desirable goal, many law enforcement agencies have made use of technology including cameras. Many law enforcement agencies and policy makers believe that policing surveillance through CCTV presents the greatest hope for improving crime control and prevention. The successful implementation of cameras in many cities has led to enhanced security by deterring criminal activity. However, the privacy concerns of the public have to be considered with every implementation of law enforcement cameras. If this is done, the benefits of cameras in terms of improved police efficiency and reduced law enforcement expenditure can be enjoyed without compromising individual privacy rights.

Annotated Bibliography

Dubin, Cindy. “Getting An Eyeful: Security: Solutions for Enterprise Security Leaders.” Security 49.5 (2012): 50-52. Web.

Dublin demonstrates that security cameras are becoming an integral part of the tools used by law enforcement officers to deter crime all over the country. The author reveals that by positioning cameras at strategic places where illegal activity occurs, law enforcement officers are able to deter criminal activity and increase the public sense of safety since people know that they are being watched hence criminals are less likely to engage in any illicit activity. The author also notes that the cameras make it possible for police officers to easily identify wrongdoers captured on tape and arrest them for trial.

Eijkman, Quirine and Weggemans Daan. “Visual surveillance and the prevention of terrorism: What about the checks and balances?” International Review of Law, Computers & Technology 25.3(2011): 143–150. Web.

Eijkman and Weggemans express concern that while visual surveillance has become a key tool for the prevention of serious crimes including terrorism by law enforcement officers, there is lack of proper checks and balances for video surveillance. The authors articulate that there is a real risk of authorities using the material obtained from cameras in an excessive or arbitrary fashion leading to the alienation of citizens. It is argued that without public accountability for the video surveillance technologies utilized by law enforcement, a surveillance society will be created with detrimental outcomes for the privacy of citizens.

Sanders, Carrie and Hannem Stacey. “Policing ‘the Risky’: Technology and Surveillance in Everyday Patrol Work.” Canadian Review of Sociology 49.4 (2012): 389-410. Web.

Sanders and Hannem argue that the rise of the surveillance society has led to a shift towards risk-oriented intelligence led policing. However, this form of policing makes use of video surveillance to legitimize the policing of marginalized and socially profiled who are deemed dangerous and a risk to public safety. Through video surveillance, the privacy of people in areas which are marked as “dangerous” is violated as more cameras are installed and a higher frequency of police patrolling occurs.

Xenakis, Aileen. “Washington and CCTV: It’s 2010, Not Nineteen Eighty-Four.” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 42.3 (2010): 573-593. Web.

Xenakis sets out to demonstrate that CCTV programs can be implemented in a way that addresses the security concerns of the citizens and safeeguards their privacy. The author articulates that video surveillance is quickly becoming a favorite tool for enhancing security and more police departments are making use of this technology to increase their effectiveness. The author then demonstrates that it is possible to balance security and privacy rights therefore making sure that the benefits of CCTVs are enjoyed while at the same time reinforcing people’s faith in the government and law enforcement agencies.

Yesil, Bilge. “Watching Ourselves: Video surveillance, urban space and self-responsibilization.” Cultural Studies 20.4 (2006): 400-416. Web.

Yesil begins by noting that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 led to an intensification in the use of video surveillance by law enforcement agencies all over the US in public setting to preemptively halt violent acts. The author notes that the public welcomed this move since it was made in response to concerns by the civilians about their safety. Yesil asserts that surveillance cameras used by law enforcement agencies should be seen as a legitimate use of the authority’s power to improve the protection of civilians.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Are Law Enforcement Cameras an Invasion of Privacy'. 27 May.

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