Why Public Surveillance Cameras Should Be Banned

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Introduction

Narrative and background information

Closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) are increasingly becoming common in major cities around the world. Kroener defines closed-circuit television as a TV system in which signals are not publicly distributed, but are monitored primarily for surveillance and security purposes (122). According to research by Kennedy, there are more than 5.9 million closed-circuit surveillance cameras in the alone (4). In the United States, the number of these cameras has been increasing, especially in major urban settings. These cameras are located everywhere, including sensitive places such as schools, hospitals, and governmental buildings. The surveillance was believed to be appropriate as a way of reducing crime in our society. For a long time, criminals have gone unpunished after committing serious offenses simply because of a lack of eyewitnesses. The use of surveillance has made it easy for the prosecutors to conduct a successful investigation and present strong evidence before the court. When this security concept started, the cameras were placed strategically in places that were prone to criminal attacks. The cameras then started becoming popular in institutions such as banks and supermarkets that were always at risk of criminal attacks. Currently, these surveillance cameras are almost in every corner of the major cities and highways within the United States.

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The government, especially the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, has insisted that these cameras are very important in deterring acts of crime and terrorist attacks. Terror is becoming a major threat to security in the United States following the September 11 Al Qaeda attack. The government has doubled its security measures, and one way through which this has been done is to increase surveillance. Now a section of society believes that the government has gone too far in the use of these cameras. According to Welsh and Farrington, surveillance cameras are now being used for many other purposes, some of which are not related to security in any way (110). Top government officials can now monitor the activities of people they perceive to be a threat to the nation. O’ Donnell simply describes this as spying on the innocent citizens who are busy developing the country in their private ways (139). There is a limit beyond which these security measures become a pure public nuisance. Since people may want to feel secure at all times and in every place they go, they also cherish their privacy. That is one of the fundamental factors that define a human being. Even wild animals in the forest enjoy this right to be private. No one wants to be monitored at all times because it creates a psychological feeling that one is in a cage. One feels that one’s world has narrowly been defined to the corners of his or her house. Some members of society claim that this privacy right inside one’s house is lost as soon as the blinders on the window are removed. Some of the modern cameras have very strong resolutions and can capture activities happening within a house if the curtains are removed and the house has proper lighting. This means that everyone is in prison where every action has to be monitored very closely, even if one has no intention of engaging in crime.

Companies are also embracing the use of these cameras to monitor the work of their employees. It started as a means of security and the cameras were strategically located at all the entrances. However, the trend is changing as some managers feel that this technology can help them increase the productivity of their workforce. Just like deterring crime in the streets and public places, this concept can help in eliminating undesirable workplace practices that may harm the productivity of a firm. However, the overall impact of these cameras on a firm’s output is always negative. The concept of transformational leadership emphasizes the need to make employees responsible for all their activities and tasks within their departments. It emphasizes the need to make employees feel that they are in charge whenever they are assigned a given task. It makes employees feel that they are trusted and that the management considers them as an integral part of the organization. This makes them develop personal and departmental goals that should be achieved over a given period. The sense of trust makes them committed to the firm at all times. It also promotes creativity because employees know that they can always correct their own mistakes without reprimanding those in authority. The use of surveillance camera tasks as these positive factors away, turning employees to act like machines. Of course, a human being can never be a machine, and whenever one makes them behave as such then the outcome shall be a total failure.

A section of the society believes that the surveillance cameras were designed to protect the rich from the poor. It emphasizes the existence of the social class defined by power and wealth. The rich and powerful understand how these cameras work. They know what they can do to manipulate them when they have the intention of doing something illegal. In case their acts are captured in the footage, they have the necessary influence to eradicate such records within the shortest time possible. It means that these rich and powerful people, including their family members and close allies, are rarely proven guilty in court because of evidence from these cameras. However, the same cannot be said about the poor and the helpless. They have little knowledge about these cameras and cannot manipulate the footage in any way. O’ Donnell says that these problems have created a perception where the surveillance system is largely seen as a tool meant to oppress the poor (141). Indeed, there are cases where innocent people have been convicted wrongly because of faulty surveillance footage or footage that has been manipulated by the rich and powerful to favor them. One would wrongfully be sent to jail because their dress code, height, walking style, or any other factor closely resembles that which has been presented in the footage. This is very common when the footage is unclear due to the quality of the camera or possible manipulation. These reasons have made the researcher strongly convinced that public surveillance cameras should be banned because they have lost their original meaning.

Discussion

The use of surveillance cameras has been on the rise not only in the United States but also in various other parts of the world. There is a growing feeling that the presence of surveillance cameras within the country is the best way of combating crime, acts of terrorism, and other acts that are prohibited by law. Surveillance cameras are also finding a new role in the places of work. During the agrarian and industrial revolutions, there was a popular practice where supervisors were appointed to supervise employees and ensure that they did not engage in non-work-related activities. This culture of close supervision came to an end in the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, a new concept has emerged of performance contracts where employees’ worth is measured by their output. This new concept has gained popularity because employees are aware that they will be compensated based on their work. They are aware that the top management trusts them hence they work with very minimal supervision. However, some firms are now using surveillance cameras to monitor the activities of their employees, which directly challenge this new popular concept. According to Welsh and Farrington, many people no longer trust the use of surveillance cameras in various institutions (110). In this section, the researcher will look at some of the arguments against the use of surveillance cameras.

Ethical view of surveillance cameras

According to Fyfe, the use of surveillance cameras may be considered unethical in various respects (45). In the streets, these cameras are installed to help the police fight insecurity and other criminal acts. However, this is not what happens in most cases. The police officers have been compromised, and they sometimes help individuals to trace the movements of friends, family members, and any other persons of interest. The research by Kennedy revealed that CCTV footage is always accessed by individuals who are not security agents or legal practitioners for personal benefits (6). This is highly unethical. When a person is offered an opportunity to track the movements of others for personal gains, then the imbalance may promote insecurity and criminal acts instead of deterring them. Moreover, Kroener notes that it is unethical for someone in a given office to have an exclusive view of all the activities that a private individual engages in as soon as he or she leaves his house (124).

Surveillance cameras spying on people

One of the most controversial debates that have been in the public domain over the recent past is the claim that the American government is spying on its citizens all over the world. According to Kennedy, the claim that top government officials and public figures have their phone conversations tapped to enable security agents to understand their intentions is not something new (5). The Wiki-leaks revealed that this has been happening for a while. Most Americans were not pleased that their government was spying on them by tapping into their phone conversations. However, what many people have not realized is that surveillance cameras are worse than the tapping of phones. One can decide to limit the use of the phone and be careful when speaking over the phone. However, one cannot limit movement out of the house because this is the only way one would lead a normal life as a person. People love their privacy because it allows them the opportunity to be themselves when they are away from the public eye. When someone is walking along the streets where there are no people around, his or her behavior will be different from when he or she is before a crowd. However, this privacy is no longer available, thanks to the emergence of these cameras. People now have to realize that they are in the eye of the public at all times.

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The government now has a better opportunity to spy on people they consider enemies of the state. As Kroener says, it is important to realize that you can be an enemy of the state when the top political leaders consider you to be politically incorrect (128). A good example is the case of Russia where President Vladimir Putin has been keen on crushing the opposition using any means possible. With the help of these cameras, innocent individuals who are only keen on promoting equity and political fairness in society are put under very close scrutiny. Anyone who visits them is easily detected and possibly put in that same blacklist of enemies of the state.

How surveillance cameras violate human’s freedom

The surveillance cameras inhibit a number of people’s freedom, top of which is the freedom of expression. People like expressing themselves in different ways to different people. In the United States, there are parks within the city where people can visit with their friends and have a good time. These parks are popular because they offer a sense of privacy. One can easily go there with a loved one and express some of the deepest feelings in an environment where there are no other prying eyes. They can play, chat, and even engage in games that they played when they were children, just in the name of love. They know that they will not be judged by the public. This important freedom of expression is always lost when the government used cameras to monitor activities in these parks. Instead of seeing two individuals who are in love and having fun together, the security agencies will be seeing individuals who are probably planning an attack. For that reason, it would be common for such individuals to be rounded by the police and subjected to a thorough search for no good reason.

The knowledge that one is constantly under surveillance can be very disturbing. It denies a person the right to lead a normal life as soon as one steps out of his or her door. According to Kennedy, naturally, people tend to change their normal behavior when they are aware that they are being monitored (3). They will try to behave in a given manner that will make them appear cool to the particular audience that is watching them. This pretext is not easy. It is like one is on a stage, trying to act a given character. It can be tiring to be on the stage quite often, but when one has to act every single time one is out there on the street, then one may develop a feeling that he or she is in prison. This is one of the reasons why a section of society now wants some regulations introduced when it comes to the use of these cameras.

Psychological effect of surveillance cameras on people

The concept of civilization by its very definition is defeated by constant surveillance by the cameras. Civilization emphasizes human interaction and engagement in social behavior. Criminal acts, terrorism, and any other behavior that is aimed at harming the innocent are considered antisocial behaviors. The main intention of surveillance cameras is to discourage antisocial behavior within our society. At first, these cameras were planted in areas where cases of antisocial acts were common. That is no longer the case in modern society. These cameras are everywhere within the major cities and highways. According to Piatrik, Fernandez, and Izquierdo, it creates the mentality that everyone is a crime that must be put under surveillance at all times (17).

Acts of crime and terrorism are controlled by psychological forces. Before one makes a decision to go and rob, rape, rough up innocent people, or even murder, several events always transpire in the mind. Kennedy, behavioral scientists, notes that no one inherits irresponsible and dangerous characters genetically (2). It all starts in the mind. For that reason, true peace and sustainable security within our community can only be achieved if there is a commitment among the public to avoid crime. CCTVs cannot stop acts such as suicide bombing. However, by appealing to the vulnerable members of society to lead responsible lifestyles, such acts can be avoided. However, these cameras emphasize the lack of trust that government has towards its people. It makes it difficult to promote the culture of responsible citizenship within the country.

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Effectiveness of surveillance cameras today

The effectiveness of surveillance cameras in combating crime has been put to question in the recent past. According to Welsh and Farrington, the surveillance system is open to manipulation by people in power (110). The rich and the powerful can easily influence the deletion of sections of the video recording that may incriminate them of their loved ones. A good example was the killing of one of the leading Russian politicians. Under normal circumstances, O’ Donnell says that this murder would have been recorded in the surveillance footage (144). However, someone had already tampered with the system, making it unable to capture the events that took place. This means that the cameras are meant to monitor the poor to ensure that they do not harm the rich and powerful. When the poor commit a crime in the streets or other social places, there is always footage to prove their crime. When the case is about powerful members of society, sensitive sections of the video either disappear or become too distorted to prove thin in the court. This is not justice. Another problem that jeopardizes the effectiveness of the system is the ability of hackers to manipulate either the cameras or the entire system. Most of the systems which are currently in use are digital. They can be controlled remotely from an office miles away from their location (Woldeab 68). This means that a hacker can easily compromise the system and render it incapable of recording a crime. This way, they can engage in criminal activities with a total assurance that no one will be able to capture their activities.

How surveillance cameras affect the workers

According to Piatrik, Fernandez, and Izquierdo, surveillance cameras have become very popular in the workplace (17). In the modern workplace environment, it has become increasingly difficult for managers to directly supervise the activities of the employees at all times. Some organizations have embraced emerging trends such as performance contracts to ensure that every employee meets specific targets in their areas of assignment. However, other firms have embraced the use of surveillance cameras to monitor the activities of their employees within the workplace. The managers can now monitor the activities of the employees without necessarily being in their areas of work. According to Stanton and Barnes, the use of these cameras has a negative impact on the performance of the employees (738). The feeling that one is under constant watch creates mistrust between the management and employees. It makes employees believe that the top managers do not trust them enough with whatever is assigned to them. This feeling may make these employees slow down in addressing various tasks. They can easily pretend before the cameras to be busy while in essence, they are doing very little. With time, they will learn how to cheat the cameras, and when this happens, their performance may deteriorate significantly. The need for the employees to set personal goals and compete amongst themselves will be lost. This in turn will reduce the creativity and innovativeness of the workforce.

Use of surveillance cameras for economic gains

Research by Kennedy reveals that some firms are now buying CCTV footage for their economic gains (7). The need to understand consumer behavior has become very important for various firms in the current competitive market. Some of the research that they do have failed to bring out the true factors that influence consumer behavior when it comes to buying specific products. The changing tastes and preferences among consumers are also becoming an issue for these firms. A new trend of research is emerging where firms monitor the buying patterns of consumers without their knowledge. Surveillance cameras enable these firms to capture consumer behavior in its most normal form. At this stage, the consumers are completely unaware that they are under surveillance. This is ethically a wrong practice. The cameras are meant to promote security and responsible citizenry. When it is used for other purposes outside this, then it becomes completely unacceptable.

Surveillance cameras cannot replace police officers

The federal and state governments have been spending a lot in setting up surveillance cameras all over the country. Installing and maintaining this equipment is very costly. It reduces the budget for the government that would have been used to hire police officers. It is important to note that these cameras cannot replace the need for adequate police officers in the country.

Benefits of surveillance cameras

O’ Donnell notes that although CCTV cameras prey on one’s privacy, their role is in promoting security in major cities (146). In the past, it was difficult for the officers to identify areas where a crime was taking place. They had to rely on phone calls from distressed individuals. However, this is no longer the case. With the cameras, they can detect crime even before it is executed. This makes it easy for them to respond very effectively to avert or reduce its adverse impact. The cameras have also played an active role in police investigations. It is not easy for common criminals to manipulate the video footage. Police officers have been relying on this footage when presenting evidence in courts to confirm that indeed the accused did take part in criminal activity. However, the way they have been misused in the recent past demonstrates that they should be banned.

Conclusion

The use of surveillance cameras to promote security and combat acts of terrorism is increasingly becoming popular in major cities within the United States and other parts of the world. However, the discussion above clearly demonstrates that this system of promoting security is not appropriate in modern society where people value their privacy and freedoms. Although the intention of installing the cameras was good, the application has been completely wrong. Public cameras are almost everywhere in major cities within this country. Activities of individual citizens are monitored as soon as they leave their homes irrespective of whether or not they intend to commit any crime. Some members of the public have complained that they lack privacy even right inside their homes because of the strategically located surveillance cameras in the nearby streets.

Right to privacy and freedom of expression are fundamental in every person’s life. Even prisoners are entitled to some privacy right inside prisons. These cameras are creating an environment that is worse than a prison setting when in terms of breach of privacy. One has to live with the burden that the whole world is watching their every step as soon as he or she steps out of the house. Some firms are also embracing the use of these cameras to monitor the activities of their employees. Studies have indicated that such surveillances have a negative impact on employees’ productivity. The public cameras located in all the streets within the cities also create a feeling among people that they are not trusted. The cameras seem to be screaming to innocent Americans that their government believes that they can commit an offense at any time, making it necessary to put them under constant surveillance. The rich have also been manipulating these cameras to defeat justice when necessary. It is for these reasons that the researcher believes that public surveillance cameras should be banned.

References

Fyfe, Nicholas. “City Watching: Closed Circuit Television Surveillance in Public Spaces.” Area 28.1 (1996): 37-46. JSTOR. Web.

Kennedy, Daniel. “Applications of Forensic Sociology and Criminology to Civil Litigation.” Journal of Applied Social Science, 4.1 (2013): 1-7. EBSCO. Web.

Kroener, Inga. “‘Caught On Camera’: The Media Representation Of Video Surveillance In Relation To The 2005 London Underground Bombings.”Surveillance & Society 11.2 (2013): 121-133. SocINDEX with Full Text. Web.

O’ Donnell, Aisling. “Who Is Watching over You? The Role of Shared Identity in Perceptions of Surveillance.” European Journal of Social Psychology 40.1 (2010): 135-47. Academic Search Complete. Web.

Piatrik, Tomas, Virginia Fernandez, and Ebroul Izquierdo. “The Privacy Challenges of In-Depth Video Analytics.” Academic Search Complete 53.3 (2012): 17-19. Web.

Stanton, Jeffrey, and Janet Barnes. “Effects of Electronic Performance Monitoring On Personal Control, Task Satisfaction, and Task Performance.” Journal of Applied Psychology 81.6 (1996): 738-745. Business Source Complete. Web.

Welsh, Brandon, and David Farrington. “Effects of Closed-Circuit Television on Crime: Assessing Systematic Evidence in Crime and Justice: Methodological Concerns and Empirical Outcomes.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 587.1 (2003): 110-135. JSTOR. Web.

Woldeab, Yvonne. “Americans: We Love You, but We Can’t Afford You”: How the Costly U.S.-Canada Fatca Agreement Permits Discrimination of Americans in Violation of International Law.” American University International Law Review, 3.2 (2015): 61-75. Web.

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