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Inside Privacy Updates on Developments in Global Privacy & Data Security from Covington & Burling LLP

Boston Marathon Bombings Spark Renewed Debate Over Surveillance

Posted in Emerging Technologies, United States

In the wake of the Boston marathon bombings and in response to the quick work of law enforcement officials who were significantly aided in their identification of the suspected bombers by videos from government- and privately owned surveillance cameras, there has been renewed public discussion regarding the privacy implications of the proliferation of security cameras. While many government officials advocate the deployment of more security cameras and law enforcement access to captured material, privacy advocates urge caution with regard to increased surveillance. In particular, privacy advocates voice concern with regard to the potential use of surveillance by law enforcement officers on “fishing expeditions” — combing through video footage to identify individuals engaged in unusual behavior, without having any other evidence that those individuals are engaged in illegal activities. Below we have highlighted a few interesting pieces discussing the issues.

 

  • Politico sums up the debate nicely, describing the spread of security cameras since the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the tension between public safety interests in law enforcement access to captured surveillance video and the privacy interests of individuals engaging in routine activities.
  • The Washington Post compares U.S. and European legal attitudes toward surveillance cameras and privacy rights and concludes that a history of government abuses in certain European countries may contribute to cultural sensitivities with regard to surveillance, and Deutsche Welle describes the reignited German political debate over surveillance cameras.
  • Academics and columnists have also weighed in with their own views. Wall Street Journal columnist L. Gordon Crovitz advocates greater use of security cameras as tools invaluable to combatting terror and discusses technological advances in video analytics that enable “activity forecasting.” In contrast, in an L.A. Times editorial by Jon Healey, University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo disputes the constitutionality of using survillance video to pre-emptively identify suspects in “fishing expeditions.” And on Salon, Professor Falguni Sheth of Hampshire College and Professor Robert Prasch of Middlebury College dispute what they characterize as the “official state view” of the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a vindication of the surveillance-state and the associated erosion of American constitutional liberties.