Surveillance in Neighborhoods: Is Constant Watch Best?

There are various arguments surrounding the use of government surveillance systems in public areas, and these arguments surround primarily two main topics, the use of cameras as an object of public community protection rights and the use of cameras as an infringement of the privacy rights of individual citizens.

Some argue that the implementation of surveillance systems by government agencies is a modern and necessary defense against the crime which occurs within communities, and some argue that this implementation has often been enacted without the proper community input or vote, leaving private citizens no voice in opposition of cameras being installed outside of their homes and businesses. In exploring the idea of governmental surveillance of neighborhoods, it is good to consider the values of protection and defense as well as the values of freedom and privacy and to make decisions within the open realm of democracy.

Unilateral decisions by government agencies without the checks and balances of the judicial and legislative systems would certainly be inappropriate. Recording the happenings in neighborhoods is a way of having constant watch over an area. Manning describes the newest surveillance technology as “eyes with brains” rather than “passive observers”. In efforts to reduce crime in neighborhoods, cameras can now be programmed to not only record what happens moment to moment but to also alert connected authorities to suspicious behavior or to camera dysfunction from moment to moment.

This constant watch may provide some people with a sense of security and wellbeing, however, for other people, they may have the feeling as if they have no private life of their own and become uneasy of governmental watch. Despite the availability of high technology security devices, it remains open as to whether or not these technological advances should be utilized in the realm of community patrol. The family life of the home and the career life of working in a business are often considered to be private affairs, something outside the realm of government.

It is often that government doesn’t get involved in public matters unless there is a specific community problem which needs correcting. It can be argued that cameras do improve the crime rate, however, the Electronic Privacy Information Center states that there is no proof that surveillance actually discourages criminality. To some individuals, family members, workers, and business owners, there is great risk in losing privacy and losing federal grant money to surveillance systems without the proof that these systems are actually helpful.

Citizens need to be clear in their minds about which avenues are the most productive in combating crime, before large sums of money are spent in technological systems which may not deter crime and which may invade privacy. Some people are grateful for the advances in surveillance implementation and can cite examples of cameras being used to prevent criminal and terrorist activity. Leicaster states that terrorist activity in the United Kingdom has been deterred by the use of surveillance and that several suspects in unsuccessful bomb plots have been found due to the help of camera patrol.

If surveillance cameras actually help the community to be safer, then perhaps people should consider the fact that surveillance has aided in hindering criminal activity in some areas. When sound research demonstrates the efficacy of a certain governmental program, then one must consider the cost of the program and the benefit of the program in society, in order to make a sound judgment on the advisability of its use.