Oct 19, 2020 Editorial
Every occasion, development, and event represent a Kodak moment, a shining and revealing one. Those moments are etched in images, as good as written in inerasable ink into evidentiary stone. In sum, it is the treasure house of camera footage that identifies criminals in action and rogue police officers recreating their cover stories. It is also of what affords some semblance of truth and justice in this deceptive and unjust-a thoroughly lawless-society.
As the Wall Street Journal noted in the title of an article dated June 13: “They used smartphone cameras to record police brutality – and change history.” And, perhaps, more tellingly: “Video camera technology on our phones got better. In the process, it made eyewitnesses of us all.”
We are, indeed, all eyewitnesses now, to both the good and the bad, whether in the form of protective store-front arrangements, state authorized electronic street surveillance networks, or individual handheld phones.
The story that is told and history that is made overpowers falsehoods, sanitizations, and re-arrangements. The small man, the discriminated against, the targeted and victimized, and those made to feel pain and loss are all placed on a more level footing, thanks to new, innovative camera technology.
That is all for the good and should be welcomed. On the other hand, though a wonderful and significant presence, the revolutionary technology raises concerns about misuse, rights, and privacy. At the core, it is about how to manage properly the security of the greatest number without adding to the insecurities of the few.
Right here, when a network of surveillance cameras was introduced for crime detection and prevention purposes, Guyanese articulated their heaviness with what was interpreted as intrusive and undesired.
Not long ago, the police reportedly rolled out body cameras for its ranks. The thinking was that they would help to manage its members better, while protecting the public, while fighting the uphill battle against crime and corruption. Though recognized as valuable, the cameras did not meet with universal warmth, with privacy rights brought to the fore.
Against this backdrop, it may be helpful to examine what the British did. The New York Times article dated September 15 and titled, “Real time surveillance tests the British tolerance for cameras”, provides guidance towards a better understanding, hopefully more tranquility.
The British have given up more than other Western democracies, with government using thousands of closed-circuit cameras to monitor digital communications following domestic bombings (IRA activities) and lethal post 9/11 events.
“Technology is driving forward, and legislation and regulation follows ever so slowly behind,” said Tony Porter, Britain’s surveillance camera commissioner. “It would be wrong for me to suggest the balance is right.”
We need to find that balance here.
One imbalance is the problematic mis-identification of non-whites, with outright bans in San Francisco and some other US cities. An American Republican legislator has compared new technologies to George Orwell’s “1984” and a threat to free speech and privacy.
The European Commission is considering new restrictions. Opponents say its use in a democratic country needs to be more carefully considered, not left to the police to determine. Here there is chronic distrust of the police.
Critics say there has been a lack of transparency about the technology’s use, particularly about the creation of watch lists, which are considered the backbone of the technology because they determine which faces a camera system is hunting for. Writers and critics have been targeted and castigated in this country for daring to speak; blocked from state-controlled media; attacked in political circles. That is for writing and objecting. What about assembling? Protesting?
Worried citizens have expressed concerns about public privacy. Against that not inappropriate anxiety, someone raised the point that along with rights comes numerous responsibilities.
It is the old physics relationship: action and reaction.
We believe that it is a matter of scale, the welfare of the greater many.
To put differently, sacrifices must be made to get somewhere, and if such a sacrifice involves surveillance cameras and police body (and dash) cameras, then those are steps in the right directions. The end objective should always be borne in mind: the safety, rights, and security of all and when not universally achievable, then as many as possible.
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