Monday, February 28, 2005

Government Surveillance: Is it Worth It?

Since the introduction of video recording devices into the consumer population, people are used to the idea that cameras are everywhere. It is no surprise that people send their funny home videos to a show for a shot at the $10,000 golden cash-calf. When someone catches a scene of atrocity they send their video to a person who will compile it with other similar videos and show the carnage to anyone who pays the price. When police videotape chasing a criminal through the streets, putting everyone at risk, the highlight of the video is the crash at the end where the bad guy gets subdued to the ground by eight police officers. I could go on forever about these types of shows and how the use of cameras in society gives us an utter sense of realism. But what about the types of cameras that governments all over the world are beginning to install as a deterrent for crime. What uses does a stationary camera have in deterring crime? Another question this poses is whether or not the cameras are actually effective in reducing crime. England has long played the advocate for using CCTV as a deterrent for crime, which in a sense has helped to sealed several convictions in some cases but has failed in other cases. The cameras in England have been thought to be a surefire way of apprehending criminals, but some studies have proven otherwise. The studies conducted have shown that the cameras help to reduce only certain types of crime against property and only under certain conditions. Crimes committed underneath the cloak of the night have proven to be more difficult to obtain convictions due to the fact that proper lighting is essential in indentifying the criminals. The types of crime that the cameras do not deter are violent crimes, and these types of crimes are the ones that citizens fear the most. Violent crimes are the types of crimes that require more investigative police officers, not more cameras. The CCTV that has been used in England has been quoted as reducing crime to a small degree. So the question remains to our citizens, is the cost of financing a project which could reduce crime to a small degree going to be beneficial to our society? Will this deterrent of crime be worth our tax dollars?

Another angle at which we need to consider the use of CCTV is the types of problems that it creates in it's own nature. These cameras are usually mounted in an outdoor setting and are monitored by people at a central command station. The types of abuse that have already stemmed from the use by US and UK government officials have included blackmail and voyeurism. The standards for ethical use of these machines are set at low levels because there is not much oversight in the regulation of the systems. One guy sits in a room and watches multiple screens. He eventually gets bored and starts creating scenarios by using the cameras to watch women or in the case of blackmail, using the cameras to catch husbands cheating on their spouses and then blackmailing them. So does this deterrent for crime really produce a effective measure for us or does it just recreate other problems from the other side of the lens?


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