Boston Marathon bombing creates renewed debate over increased surveillance measures
By End the Lie
In the wake of the capture of both alleged Boston Marathon bombers, the debate around increasing surveillance measures has yet again made its way into the spotlight.
Despite the fact that the United States is already a surveillance state with surveillance cameras in residential neighborhoods, constantly expanding domestic drone activity, armored surveillance vehicles, insane court decisions, the NSA’s massive illegal surveillance program, absurd secrecy, pervasive surveillance technology, surveillance equipment on buses, a centralized biometric database and so much more, some think we actually need more surveillance.
In defense of their position, some like Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, actually claim that there is no expectation of privacy in public whatsoever.
“If you walk down the street, anyone can look at you, anyone can see where you’re going. You have no expectation of privacy when you’re out in public,” King said, according to The Hill.
“This is not looking into someone’s home or doing something that would require a search warrant,” King, former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said in an interview with The Hill. “We’re talking about something which is out in the open.”
Other legislators agree with the idea of placing more cameras in large metropolitan areas, though they acknowledge that people will not accept putting a camera on the corner of every street in small towns.
“I think in the larger cities [more cameras would be good], to the extent that people are willing to accept [them],” said Rep. Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
“In smaller towns, you’re going to have people who have privacy issues and they don’t want cameras. But in New York it’s pretty effective, and in larger cities,” McCaul said, according to The Hill.
However, some contend that the bloated surveillance state currently in place actually failed.
“The explosion of the bombs confirmed that a massive extension of the surveillance-state did not protect people in Boston,” Falguni Sheth and Robert Prasch wrote for Salon.
The authors contend that “there was nearly no element of the recently reinforced surveillance state that contributed to the capture or killing these two suspects.”
Sheth and Prasch argue that the amount of photography at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and its contribution to the capture of the suspects “can’t be ascribed to the massive expenditures and “federalization” of “homeland security,” but rather to a change in consumer electronics.”
“In what way have the massive expenditures, intrusive surveillance practices, and stripping away of our liberties been vindicated by the events of this past week?” ask the authors. “In fact, no one can truthfully say ‘Aha! This is where these new practices have made a difference! Thank goodness George W. Bush and Barack Obama have so little regard for the American Constitution or everything would have really gone badly at that particular point in these events.’”
“The events of the past week in Boston do not vindicate the rise of the Homeland Security bureaucracy and certainly do not vindicate the stripping of our liberties, the shutting down of a major city, or the instantiation of a police state. But they certainly affirm the future as it was perceived by Orwell,” the authors conclude.
Yet this hasn’t stopped a nationwide push towards increased surveillance.
“They’re not just putting in thousands of cameras, they’re putting in tens of thousands of cameras,” said David Gerulski, vice president of BRS Labs, a company in Texas that installs artificial intelligence for video surveillance.
“Metro Boston is among the U.S. regions participating federal grant programs to increase video technology in mass transit and port systems,” writes Dan Harr for the Hartford Courant. “And Boston is one of the cities moving cameras (and the software that can sort out all that data) from their traditional perch in transit systems, into the streets,” Harr writes, citing Gerulski.
Some, like Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, say that it seems the U.S. is already under a significant amount of surveillance.
“Maybe we could have more cameras. I would have a hard time believing there’s another space to put one,” Landrieu said. “Maybe there is, but we have cameras everywhere, it seems to me.”
Landrieu currently heads the Senate appropriation committee that oversees and funds homeland security efforts.
“If there’s a cost effective way for us to identify every backpack that’s laid down on ever sidewalk every day of the year, I’m open to talk about it,” Landrieu continued, according to The Hill. “But it’s not for lack of trying or vigilance. It’s just the nature of what this is. And so we’ll see. I don’t think we want to overreact.”
Others seem to be worried about the rise of surveillance and what it will do to the freedoms Americans are supposed to enjoy.
“I look at Boston, and I think what could we possibly have done and what could you put in place now that would still allow the freedoms that we’re used to in this country?” asked Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican.
“If you micromanage these things, if you try to figure out something you can do through government to stop every possible thing in a free country from happening, I don’t see that it’s possible,” Inhofe said, according to The Hill.
“It sounds good, it’s a politically popular thing to say, but I don’t think you can do it,” Inhofe said.
While Michael German, a senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and former FBI special agent, recognizes that there can be some benefit to having street cameras in heavily populated urban settings, there are major factors to consider.
Not only have cameras not been proven to actually deter violent crime but they also “are very expensive to put into place and could open the doors for government intrusion into private life,” as The Hill put it.
“There are appropriate uses for security cameras at large public events or at government buildings that are known targets,” German said.
“What we don’t want to happen is for millions of innocent Americans to have to be surveilled constantly anytime they go out in public and for the government to maintain databases of those public movements. That doesn’t necessarily improve security,” German concluded.
What do you think we will see in the next few years? Increased surveillance or a recognition that the already massive surveillance state doesn’t actually prevent anything? Let us know by commenting on this post, on our Facebook page or on Twitter.
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