The police force in Ferguson, Missouri, will now be wearing body cameras, but the ACLU is warning that they don’t approve of the technology spreading past police use to other venues. Where is the line between invasion of privacy and protective oversight?
First, it’s important to be aware that the public has called for body cameras on police officers. After disparate descriptions of the confrontation between Ferguson office Darren Wilson and unarmed teen Michael Brown, KSDK reported that petitions were circulating that called for officers to be equipped with cameras. It is widely recognized that when officers are doing their jobs correctly, these devices protect them as well as the public.
After discussion grew about the costs of such equipment, ABC News says that Safety Vision, a Texas-based company that manufactures such devices for law enforcement use, donated the cameras. In the case of Michael Brown, body cameras may have shown indisputable evidence about the encounter, which was described differently by police than by eyewitnesses. It could even prevent some incidents, with police and suspects alike aware they’re being watched.
So, why is the ACLU speaking out against body cameras?
Well, we need to be very clear that the ACLU is not opposed to body cameras for police officers. They’ve spoken about their position on police cameras before, and it’s relatively simple: They recognize cameras as a possible privacy concern, but also recognize them as a measure to prevent police brutality and abuse of power. Accordingly, they’d like the equipment used in a way that best balances privacy and protection.
The problem is that the technology may be deployed in situations beyond police departments. The Guardian says Miami Beach is considering body cameras for meter maids, calling it a move for transparency, and the ACLU worries they could spread to other officials, from building inspectors to code enforcers.
The ACLU blog warned last week that such a move would be problematic, allowing the privacy not only of these workers, but the people they encounter, to be violated without good reason.
Said ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley:
“I am not aware of any cases of building inspectors shooting unarmed civilians in the course of their work. The fact is, these jobs do not come with the frightening powers that police officers possess, and so do not need the same kinds of checks on those powers.”
The debate comes down to the line between monitoring public workers and protecting the privacy of citizens. Body cameras may be an effective protection, but if they aren’t limited to the most necessary uses, they may cross the line and no longer be constitutional.