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items tagged with surveillance

Police Should Be on – Not Behind – Cameras
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Commentary/Politics

Category: Guest Commentaries

2014-12-10 11:43:51

Police body cameras are all the rage lately. Al Sharpton wants them used to monitor the activities of cops. Ann Coulter wants them used to “shut down” Al Sharpton. The White House wants them because, well, they’re a way to look both “tough on police violence” and “tough on crime” by spending $263 million on new law-enforcement technology.

When Al Sharpton, Ann Coulter, and the president of the United States agree on anything, my immediate, visceral reaction is extreme skepticism. In this case, the known facts support that skepticism.

(Editor’s note: According to a recent article in the The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus, Hampton, Illinois, recently began using body cameras, and the Davenport, Bettendorf, and East Moline police departments have either tested them or plan to acquire them.)

It’s exceedingly unlikely that widespread use of police body cameras would reduce the incidence or severity of unjustified police violence. We’ve already seen the results of numerous technology “solutions” to that problem.

The introduction of mace and Tasers to police-weapons inventories encouraged a hair-trigger attitude toward encounters with “suspects” (“suspect” being law-enforcement-ese for “anyone who isn’t a cop”). Their supposed non-lethality made it safer to substitute violent action for peaceful talk.

The introduction of military weaponry and vehicles to policing hasn’t produced de-escalation, either. Quite the opposite, in fact: Now we get to watch small-town police departments stage frequent re-enactments of the Nazi occupation of Paris in towns across America.

And police-car “dash cams”? That’s obviously the most direct comparison. But the dash cam often seems to malfunction, or the police department mysteriously loses its output, when a credible claim of abusive police behavior arises.

On the other hand, it’s absolutely certain that widespread use of police body cameras would increase the scope and efficacy of an increasingly authoritarian surveillance state.

The White House proposal calls for an initial rollout of 50,000 cameras. Does anyone doubt that the output of those cameras would be kept, copied, cross-referenced, and analyzed against law-enforcement databases (including but not limited to facial-recognition databases) on a continuing basis?

Assuming a camera attaches to a particular officer with an eight-hour shift (rather than being passed around at shift changes for 24-hour use), that’s 400,000 hours per day of random, warrant-less searches to be continuously mined for probable cause to investigate and arrest people. Even George Orwell didn’t go so far as to have 1984’s Thought Police carry portable cameras everywhere they went!

Video technology is certainly part of the solution to police violence, but that solution should remain in the hands of regular people, not the state. More and more of us every day come into possession of the ability to record video on the spot, while instantly porting it to Internet storage so that it can’t be destroyed at the scene or tampered with after the fact. Cops need to be on cameras they don’t control.

But part of the solution is still just part of the solution. Even when cameras catch violent, abusive, criminal cops in action – as, for example, when business security cameras filmed Fullerton, California, police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli beating homeless man Kelly Thomas to death in 2011 – it’s incredibly hard to get prosecutions and even harder to get convictions.

Ubiquitous video monitoring of state actors by regular people is a start. But the only real way to guarantee and end to police violence is to bring an end to state “law enforcement” – in fact, to the state itself.

Thomas L. Knapp is senior news analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS.org), where this commentary originally appeared.



The FBI: America’s Secret Police
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Commentary/Politics

Category: Guest Commentaries

2014-11-06 16:00:50

Every regime has its own name for its secret police. Mussolini’s OVRA carried out phone surveillance on government officials. Stalin’s NKVD carried out large-scale purges, terror, and depopulation. Hitler’s Gestapo went door-to-door ferreting out dissidents and other political “enemies” of the state. And in the U.S., it’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation that does the dirty work of ensuring compliance, keeping tabs on potential dissidents, and punishing those who dare to challenge the status quo.

Whether the FBI is planting undercover agents in churches, synagogues, and mosques, is issuing fake emergency letters to gain access to Americans’ phone records, is using intimidation tactics to silence Americans who are critical of the government, or is persuading impressionable individuals to plot acts of terror and then entrapping them, the overall impression of the nation’s secret police force is that of a well-dressed thug, flexing its muscles and doing the boss’ dirty work.

It’s a far cry from the glamorized G-men depicted in Hollywood film noirs and spy thrillers. The government’s henchmen have become the embodiment of how power, once acquired, can be so easily corrupted and abused.


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