Monday, April 22, 2013

Civil Society, Not Big Brother, is the American Way

By Timothy Carney

"I do think we need more cameras," Republican Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said the day after the Boston Marathon bombing. "We have to stay ahead of the terrorists."

"We Need More Cameras, and We Need Them Now," blared the headline at Slate magazine.

As with every terrorist attack and high-profile killing, the Boston bombing has prompted calls for Americans to give up civil liberties for the sake of security. Rather than gun control or airport pat-downs, this time the call is for a Big Brother-like network of police cameras allowing authorities to more closely monitor people who move about the streets.

But the story of the Boston bombers -- the details of their crime and their capture -- makes the opposite argument. We don't need more government surveillance. We need to maintain robust civil society and public spiritedness.

Responding to IRA bombings and then going further after 9/11, London has created a "ring of steel," with chokepoints and thousands of closed-circuit television [CCTV] cameras. Wherever you go in London, Big Brother can watch you.

At Slate, Farhad Manjoo wrote, "Thanks to CCTV cameras, the identities of the bombers and their co-conspirators were determined in a few days' time."

But guess who else determined the identities of bombers in a few days' time, without thousands of police surveillance cameras? U.S., Massachusetts and Boston police.

Law enforcement in Boston used cameras to ID the bombing suspects, but not police cameras. Instead, authorities asked the public to submit all photos and videos of the finish-line area to the FBI, just in case any of them had relevant images. The surveillance videos the FBI posted online of the suspects came from private businesses that use surveillance to punish and deter crime on their property.

So it turns out we already have plenty of cameras on the street. They're not government cameras, but rather cameras owned and operated by private individuals and businesses. In a bout of public spiritedness, these pedestrians and businesses willingly shared their videos with law enforcement. Even if the crime had not been so notorious, the police could expect public cooperation -- what merchant wouldn't share his surveillance tapes to aid in a murder investigation?

So what do we gain by having the government run its own cameras?

Read the rest here.

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