Kurt Kerns, Attorney at Law
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There is no free lunch with surveillance

Body cameras are currently viewed as a means of preventing abusive behavior by police during interactions with the public. Some studies suggest that these cameras reduce the number of police brutality claims and likewise encourage members of the public that they interact with to be on their best behavior. It also can prevent police officers from being unfairly accused by phony charges of abuse.

But, as with many technologies, there risks. Few would have foreseen the threat posed by cellphones in causing distracted driving back in the early 1990s, when the phones were expensive and very large, affordable only for the very wealthy. Body cameras can provide as somewhat objective view of police interaction, but they will not offer omniscient view of that interaction.

There will be questions and litigation involving who has access to the video and when. What happened before a recording began and what followed may be important in many cases. But there is an additional concern. That of the "normalization" of ever more video surveillance.

According to one news report, some schools have recently requested that principles be given body cameras, to record their interaction with students. As with police recordings, there will be times when this is most helpful in sorting out conflicting stories that lack unbiased observers.

But it also means that we will have thousands of less significant interactions, recorded, and viewable. The question becomes, by whom? And to what purpose?

The Fourth Amendment protects the people from "unreasonable searches." In a world where more and more is recorded how far will our conception of what is reasonable shift when surveillance cameras of the state become omnipresent?

Source: brennancenter.org, "The Dystopian Danger of Police Body Cameras," Rachel Levinson-Waldman, August 17, 2015

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