Research Paper On Surveillance Or Privacy: Security Cameras And Legal Issues

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Crime, Camera, Social Issues, Surveillance, Criminal Justice, Cyber Crimes, Law, Public

Pages: 10

Words: 2750

Published: 2020/10/30

Impacts of Surveillance Cameras on Crime: Privacy in exchange for security?

Local governments across the United States are constantly looking for an efficacious public safety interposition that will provide a bi-fold effect on society. One, this public intervention should help in restraining crime and two, enhance the economic welfare and the sustainability of neighborhoods in the nation. Though the prevailing law enforcement philosophy remains to be anchored on “community policing” strategies, which is believed to be a potent and sufficient police strategy, law enforcement units are still hard put to cope with the increasing demands of curbing crime; here, the use of new systems and mechanisms that can help “community policing” strategies that are already in place.
The most recent “wave” of technologies being harnessed is the use of “public surveillance cameras,” or “closed circuit television cameras.” As close observation cameras are widely used by businesses to enhance security measures, the use of these tools to monitor public areas has been less in use owing to civil and privacy rights issues. Nevertheless, community policing strategies may ultimately benefit from the use of cameras in solving crimes. This is due to the high potential of these cameras to be of help in resolving crimes and facilitate the apprehension of suspects, and raise the awareness of criminals that these will be arrested and prosecuted.
Aside from improving the protections of citizens against crime, the use of surveillance equipment can help in giving citizens an enhanced perception of security, thus the deployment of these mechanisms in public places. In this light, enhanced community perceptions of active police protection enhancement policies can help in improving relationships and the coordination of the police and the community (La Vigne, Lowry, Markman, and Dwyer, 2011, p. 3).
The premise that support the effectiveness of public monitoring technologies as crime deterrent mechanisms is anchored on the belief that potential criminals believe that their actions are being observed, then it is plausible that these will refrain from committing their crime. This comprehension is consistent with the “rational choice theory,” that proffers that possible miscreants will choose to make objective, reasonable decisions to act out their criminal choice after careful consideration of the consequences, both positive and negative, of their actions.
The Urban Institute reports in a recent examination that surveillance cameras placed in urban zones have had different outcomes. In the light of increasing demands to improve public safety and address criminality and skyrocketing state budgetary shortfalls, the study set out whether the budget allocations for surveillance cameras will be worth the investment. The study discovered that the use of the cameras per se is not the main factor in rating its efficacy; rather, the effectiveness of the cameras is dependent on how the mechanism is structured and on efficacy of the mechanisms.
In the study of the group, it found that cameras, if properly set up, can be a very powerful tool in deterring crime. However, the study also showed that the use of cameras as a crime deterrent tool will not be an effective tool in all situations. To cite an example, Chicago law enforcement authorities equipped cameras in Humboldt and West Grace parks in high visibility locations and mounted with blue lights that flashed intermittently.
Before the installation of the cameras, Humboldt Park saw a steep rise in crime rates; when the cameras were installed, the crime rate in the area plummeted by 20 percent and stayed at a low level. This was in contrast to the rate in West Grace Park, where the cameras had little impact on crime statistics. In examining the reports, it was found that citizens in West Grace Park believed that there was no constant monitoring being done by police with the cameras in the area, and thus continued to commit criminal acts as if the cameras were not installed at all. Compared to the rates in West Grace, Humboldt had a higher number of cameras, which resulted in improved police response times and enhanced disruption possibilities of criminal activities (Homeland Security News Wire, 2011, p. 1).
However, as with any position, there is a countervailing assertion to the benefits of installing cameras and crime deterrence. In a research study done in New York University, researchers concluded that, basing from the effects of these mechanisms installed in Peter Copper Village and Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan, surveillance mechanisms do not have any significant deterrent effect on crime. The study studied crime statistics within the twin locations as well as the area of the 13th Precinct in Manhattan; it concluded that in the period from 2002 to 2006, no significant drop in crime rates occurred in Peter Cooper. However, there was more persuasive evidence for a minimal drop in crime rate at the Stuyvesant location.
Though there have been prior studies in the relationship of the use of cameras and its effects on crime statistics, and there is evidence that the use of surveillance cameras with other systems had a major impact on criminality, majority of the studies aver that on the basis of statistical evidence, using cameras and its efficacy as a deterrent against criminality is inconclusive. However, it must be noted that the study that showed a positive correlation between surveillance cameras and criminality was conducted in a high crime rate urban area and the results showing inconclusive results were conducted in law crime rate areas (Lee, 2009, p. 1).
Police and other law enforcement agencies legitimize their decision in using surveillance crimes in that these decrease crime statistics. In UK studies, cameras failed in reducing actual crime rates, but these also failed in instilling a fear of apprehension and punishment for the potential offender. In the study, the deployment of cameras did not help in assuaging the feeling of fear and vulnerability of people when these venture into high crime areas. In fact, in the research of Gill and Spriggs, the presence of cameras made people even more fearful of being victimized. The failure of cameras deterring criminals is also indicative of the perception of criminals regarding the presence of surveillance cameras (Schlosberg, Ozer, 2007, p. 12).
In the holding of a number of legal commentators, endless video recording and monitoring of movements in public places does not place any significant legal impediments. Though the courts have not directly ruled on the issue, prevailing understanding of the First as well as the Fourth Amendments evidence that the use of video monitoring and recording equipment in this context is a legitimate expression of the power of state to safeguard the welfare of its citizens. It can be held that the operation of this type of surveillance equipment can be likened to a “mechanical police officer;” the use of these mechanisms does not interfere with a person’s “sphere of privacy” but records the events that happen in a public area where individuals cannot invoke a right to “reasonable expectations of privacy.”
Under Title I of the 1986 Communications Privacy Act, “silent” video recording that do not involve audio recordings, are exempted from the requirements of having to obtain warrants to be conducted, compared to “wiretaps” where warrants are a must. In US v New York Telephone Company, 434 US 159 (1977), the US High Court ruled that “all audio surveillance fall within Title III, Title I’s forebear, in ruling that “pen registers” are incapable of recording sound. If a video recording device is capable of recording sound, then a warrant must first be obtained by law enforcement personnel prior to the commission of the act (Nieto, 1997, p. 1).
In Katz v United States, 389 US 347 (1967), the United States Supreme Court set the contemporary understanding of the concept of “search and seizure” as enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. In the holding of the Court, when a person volitionally shows to the public, even though he/she is in their work or at home, is not protected under the Fourth; however, the subjects that a person wants to remain private, even though the location is public in nature, that is guaranteed under the protections of the Fourth.
For example, when a person is on a sidewalk, or is in a park alone, this cannot be construed as being exempt from the “public eye” or monitoring by law enforcement personnel. This feature of the law has been decided by the US High Court in United States v Knotts, 368 US 276, 281-282 (1983). Simply put, when people publicly disclose by their actions that these can be videotaped or monitored, the person cannot claim to seek protections under the Fourth. Dealings that are conducted in “plain view” or in a public arena generally do not generate concerns regarding the Fourth; the principle is known as the “plain view rule” or “open field doctrine.”
Should a person commit an illegal act in plain view, or in the view of a surveillance camera, police officers are not required to obtain judicial mandate to search the person to locate damning evidence. Jurisprudence that assay and implement the Fourth Amendment as a “house, document, individuals, or personal effects” that are safeguarded from capricious search activities conducted by the government. In the holding of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v Sherman, 990 F. 2d 1265 (9th Cir. 1993), the court ruled that “individuals [recorded] in public viewhave no reasonable expectation of privacy,” and could not challenge the government’s use of the videotape at the trial.” However, with regards to videotaping activities that occurs in the confines of the person’s home, then there may be possible Fourth Amendment concerns (Nieto, 1997, p. 1).
However, critics of the practice aver that government operated surveillance mechanisms can thoroughly shift the association that the police and security establishment have with the general public. On its own, surveillance cameras pose a threat to rights regarding individual privacy. According to critics, the threat to individual privacy is compounded when law enforcement authorities utilizes surveillance cameras in combination with new technologies such as facial and retinal scanning technologies, “radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and law enforcement directories. In this light, it can be said that surveillance cameras form an integral pillar in the law enforcement philosophy.
Using surveillance cameras engenders the possibility of allowing government to actively monitor the movements of people in public places. These mechanisms are generally seen in “automated banking machines” and in the vicinity or on the premises of businesses; the use of these mechanisms in public areas by the government are a more recent event. A number of jurisdictions attempted to install cameras in the 1990s; however, many of these cities rebuffed proposals owing to budgetary and legal impediments.
With the extremist attacks on the 11th of September, 2011, completely altered conceptions on issues of privacy and freedom, and a homeland agency awash with money and zealous to support local government initiatives to embrace new intervention programs, the Federal government gave out hundreds of millions of dollars to local jurisdictions to install surveillance mechanisms and structures. State-operated surveillance programs interpose a number of severe threats to personal freedoms. With progression of technologies in this sector, the ability of these technologies to infringe on individual freedoms has also manifolded.
What has lagged behind in this area is the legal jurisprudence attendant to these scenarios. Video monitoring technologies have proliferated in American cities even though these have been argued as posing significant threats to the rights of “freedom of speech and association” protected by the First Amendment and imperil the rights to privacy and namelessness guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment as well as the texts of state fundamental laws.
People will be more reluctant in being able to exercise their collective to “speak, act, and associate with other people” when there is a large potential that their movements are being observed. In the holding of legal commentators, people will be hesitant in acting and expressing their intentions; when these know that their movements will be monitored, no matter how innocent their movements or actions may seem. In addition, people will always believe that the cameras are not the only ones “watching” them; it is ultimately the government is the one watching them.
The guarantee to be able to express oneself freely not only in terms of the action of the person, but also when the person chooses to remain in a motionless state; this holding was affirmed by the Supreme Court in Chicago v Morales; in the decision, the Supreme Court held that the “freedom to loiter for innocent purposes is part f the ‘liberty’ protected by the ‘Due Process Clause’ in the Fourth Amendment.” For the Court, whether one stands still or is in motion, these are all part and parcel of the right to move freely protected by the Constitution.
Aside from guarantees against encumbering personal freedoms on free speech and association, the “right to privacy” is a critical variable in liberating individuals from state interference if there is no compelling reason to do so. The protections against unwarranted searches enshrines this right; the Fourth guarantees Americans an sphere of control around their physical bodies and properties that the government cannot gain access to without “reasonable cause.” The sphere of influence spreads beyond the façade of the person’s home. Within certain parameters, this zone will encompass locations or items that persons want to remain as private, though the area is accessible to the public.
When people step out from the porches or steps of their home and unto the sidewalks, these are still under the protection of the Fourth Amendment, as ruled by the High Court in Delaware v Prouse. The use of parks and byways, in the holding of Hague v CIO, has been long held to be for the “purposes of assembly, communicating though between citizens, and discussing public questions.” The High Court held that the use of the streets and parks with this objective has long been a component of the protections, rights, and liberties of Americans (Schlosberg, Ozer, 2007, pp. 2-7).
Even though there have been statements that trumpet the benefits that surveillance camera deployment provides, the use of these mechanisms can generate considerable political apprehensions and fears in communities. Opponents of these state-operated public monitoring systems are generally engaged in addressing the possible jeopardy that these systems can wreak on civil freedoms. In addition, there are fears among the general public that government organizations will be able to conduct intrusive and possibly illegal monitoring activities; it is also possible that government agencies or its representatives abusing the system. Lastly, there is the fear that these agencies will not be restrained owing to a lack of regulations that can restrain their actions.
There are also those believe that the use of these cameras will only provide a deceptive sense of protection, lulling “targets” to lower their defenses and be exposed to the threats that are being guarded against in the first place. Other issues involve “crime displacement;” initiatives to decrease crime rates are not actually reducing criminality, but rather just shift various factors that involve crime such as the location, time, and the manner the crime is committed. Here, the use of surveillance cameras in one location may work to increase crime rates in another (La Vigne, Lowry, 2011, pp. 1-2).
Other extremist attacks on American soil such as the bombing of the World Trade Center and in Oklahoma City as well as the shutdown of Pennsylvania Avenue have fueled concerns in the United States about the need for raising security standards. Prior to these attacks, industry representatives stated that store clients vehemently objected to cameras in a store to monitor their movements; in the aftermath of these attacks, not only is the deployment of these cameras completely acceptable to shoppers, it is favored.
However, the question again is do cameras have a tangible effect on crime. A 1995 poll was taken among armed robbers that have already been imprisoned and serving their sentences to list down factors that would most deter them from robbing an establishment. In the resolution of the study, the use of video recording and surveillance equipment “was of little or no consequence” to the sample lot (Nieto, 1997, p. 1).
Confidentiality and “freedom of expression” in public areas are the anvils and the furnaces where America was forged. If these were not present, it would be nearly impossible to be able to fuel the political discourses that structured American society today (Schlosberg, Ozer, 2011, p. 8).
There are other alternatives that can be used instead of costly video surveillance and monitoring systems. With government budgets shrinking and demands ever increasing, it is imperative to cite other options. “Street lighting” can help in generating savings; studies in the United States as well as in the United Kingdom noted a 20 percent decrease in crime rates in well-lit public areas. Comprehensive foot patrols have displayed similar reductions in crime rates. In this light, it can be said that allocating extremely limited public resources to surveillance systems may be an ineffectual and fruitless endeavor (Schlosberg, Ozer, 2011, p. 14).


Homeland Security News Wire (2011) “Study shows surveillance cameras reduce crime, in some cases” Retrieved 29 January 2015 from <
La Vigne, N, G., Lowry, S.S., Markman, J.A., Dwyer, A. M (2011). “Evaluating the use of public surveillance cameras for crime control and prevention” Retrieved 29 January 2015 from <
Lee, J. S. (2009, March 3). Study questions whether cameras cut crime. The New York Times
Nieto, M (1997). “Public video surveillance: is it an effective crime prevention tool?” Retrieved 29 January 2015 from <
Schlosberg, M., Ozer, N. A (n.d.) “Under the watchful eye: the proliferation of video surveillance systems in California.” Retrieved 29 January 2015 from <

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