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Opening Arguments

Here they come

I know from comments on earlier posts that some of you aren't bothered all that much by the growing number of surveillance cameras. Hey, they're in public places where we have no expectations of privacy, right? But how close to your front door do they have to get before you'll get worried?

The ACLU of Michigan recently put out an interesting report on surveillance cameras. Like other ACLU reports on cameras (such as those by our affiliates in Illinois and Northern California, and the materials on our national site) it summarizes the policy arguments against cameras. But it also focuses on a uniquely disturbing application of surveillance cameras: their deployment in residential neighborhoods.

[. . .]

Today’s surveillance units in residential Lansing not only provide a 360-degree view of the area up to 500 feet, but also have zoom capabilities. Each day, the cameras engage in 24-hour viewing and imaging of the surrounding area utilizing high-definition color, night vision, and focus features that resolve minute detail in even the most severe environmental conditions. This means that the Lansing cameras give police the ability to read words on a piece of paper in someone’s hand within 50 feet, clearly discern a license plate that is 300 feet away, or recognize a face at 400 feet. Although the cameras are not monitored 24 hours a day, everything viewed by the cameras is digitally recorded and stored on hard drives for two weeks or more.

Supposedly there are "privacy zones" in which video is not recorded, such as the windows of homes. But if they have the technical capability to peek in, somebody will start using. They always do.


Harl Delos
Fri, 10/05/2012 - 12:58pm

Pennsylvania makes it illegal to record a phone call unless all parties to the call have agreed.  Callers are free to make abusive and obscene phone calls, because you can't prove they are doing it.  What's more, there doesn't have to be a phone line involved.  Banks can take videos of bank robbers, but they have to be silent movies.

In the early 1960s, we learned that the CIA can eavesdrop on conversations that cannot be heard by bouncing a laser at a window of the room.  The sounds in the room vibrate the glass, apparently.

Maybe we need a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right of privacy.  It is already found in the 9th and 14th amendments, but they don't say how much privacy we're guaranteed.  There are some who argue, not unreasonably, that SCOTUS erred in asserting that privacy is constitutionally protected. 

If a guy undresses in front of a window and Miss Grundy sees him, he gets arrested for indecent exposure, but if Miss Grundy undresses in front of a window and a guy sees her, he gets arrested for windowpeeping.  There ain't no justice!