The Boston Bombing: Should Cameras Now Be Everywhere?

More video surveillance will be coming to cities across America. But how do we balance safety with privacy?

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AP

This frame grab from a video released by the FBI on April 18, 2013, shows Tamerlan, front, in black cap, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in white cap, back right, walking through the crowd before the explosions at the Boston Marathon in Boston, Mass., on April 15, 2013.

After the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the capture of his brother Dzhokhar, some lawmakers began calling for more public cameras of the sort that were so instrumental in their swift apprehension. Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.,) a member of the House Homeland Security and Intelligence committees, told MSNBC that video cameras in public locations are “a great law enforcement method” that “keeps us ahead of the terrorists who are constantly trying to kill us.”

(MORE: Brother’s Keeper: Did Older Brother Lure Bombing Suspect into Plot?)

It’s a safe bet that there will be more video cameras coming to cities across the United States. London, which was shaken by a subway bombing on July 7, 2007, now has upwards of one million surveillance cameras. So this is a good time to ask if we should put some limits on the government’s all-seeing eye. The answer should be yes. We should craft our laws to allow images of criminal suspects to be captured in public – but also to make sure that the government does not unduly infringe on the privacy rights of innocent citizens.

(MORE: FBI Will Face Questions Over Past Probe of Suspects)

The first thing to understand about surveillance video in public places is that there is already a lot of it going on – though it is impossible to know how much. Back in 2006, the New York Civil Liberties Union sent inspectors out to look for street-level surveillance cameras and found nearly 4,500 in Manhattan alone. There are, no doubt, many thousands more today in Manhattan, and countless more in cities and towns and shopping malls across the country.

In addition to these government-installed cameras, there are street-facing security cams installed by office complexes, apartment buildings, and retail stores. In the Boston Marathon investigation, law enforcement relied in large part on surveillance video from a Lord & Taylor department store that appeared to show someone dropping off a heavy bag at the bombing site. (Photos taken the old-fashioned way were also important.)

(MORE: Bloody Visions: What Would the Boston Bombings Look Like in the Google Glass Era?)

Adding to this far-reaching network of public cameras, the government is now ramping up the use of domestic drones – pilotless aircraft equipped with powerful surveillance cameras that can photograph both public places and private property. Congress has been leading the charge, ordering the Federal Aviation Administration to open airspace that was once off-limits to drones.

(MORECriminals and Terrorists Can Fly Drones Too)

As video surveillance inevitably ramps up, there are several ways that law enforcement interests should be against by privacy concerns. We need to develop clearer principles about when and where surveillance cameras should be used, which are now woefully lacking. It makes sense to have cameras in places where terrorism and crime are of particular concern— such as in Times Square or near major bridges and tunnels. It would be more troubling to learn, however, that the government has focused cameras on the front doors of our homes just to keep track of our comings and goings.

We also need laws establishing strong “data minimization” requirements. When the government takes video of people in public places, the images should only be kept as long as they may reasonably be needed to investigate a crime. After a few days, if there has not been a report of a crime, they should be destroyed. The government — and private companies — should not use surveillance cameras to create massive databases of where we all have been, or searchable archives of political protesters.

(PHOTOS: Images: Joy and Relief in Boston After Bombing Suspect’s Arrest)

Finally, we need to proceed with particular caution with domestic drones. If we are going to have them —and it seems that we are —we must establish strong standards for transparency about where they go and what they do, and we need to start developing robust privacy protections, including particular checks on their use to photograph private property.

(MORE: First Pictures of Bombing Suspects After Arrest)

When photos quickly turned up of the Boston Marathon bombers, and those images helped in tracking them down, it was hard not to cheer for the role that video technology can play in fighting terrorism and other crimes. There was good reason for cheering but now that we are done, we should begin to put in place well-considered rules that strike the right balance between law enforcement and privacy.

45 comments
kuei12
kuei12

Give me liberty or give me fear.

PedroJuanTG
PedroJuanTG

Lets take a cue from the UK where cameras are placed in strategic public locations that maybe possible targets. It has help them foil and capture terrorists.

fcs251
fcs251

Security and privacy contradict each other, and both can not obtain at the same time and place.One has to be eradicated for the other to exist. 

yutubenut
yutubenut

lets say 8,000 deaths per year due to terror/mass shootings, 300 million population your odds per year 0.003% per year, 0.3% over your lifetime assuming you live to 100. Yea, lets get rid of privacy for that. 

BobKaminski
BobKaminski

No, some places u need privacy, bathroom, out in nature, strip club backrooms!

@Priyanka_Hearts
@Priyanka_Hearts

Be it the Connecticut incident or the Boston incident , all those guys don't have any political intention . But in the beginning that is what we all thought .  Adam Lanza , Tamerlan and Dzhokar have one thing in common - They don't seem to  have any reasonable intention . America can be much safer of it gets strict with "who all can be let inside the America." The can't just let these kinda people inside the state . I think if this taken care of America would be a much safer place from the hands of psychopaths .

UleNotknow
UleNotknow like.author.displayName 1 Like

"Should cameras now be everywhere?" Yeah - let's start with your bathroom.

meddevguy
meddevguy

We're giving away most of our personal freedoms to governments who want to limit our individual social behavior and you're worried about video cameras that have proven to catch bad guys? 

nullcodes
nullcodes

The quality of the pictures were horrible. They weren't good enough for even their friends to ID them. They got caught for reasons independent of the photos (trying to carjack somebody, robbing a convenience store etc.). If we are going to have cameras at least make them useful.

TiSentinel65
TiSentinel65

Many of the cameras  were in private hands the way it should be. Government should not be able to put cameras all over the place to track our every move. Ironic that people always chant that the terrorists will never be able to take our freedom away while the government is slowly doing it. When government becomes paranoid to the level of Naziism it will be time to revolt and take back our country. Government is by the people and for the people. Nixon found out the hard way that his fear and hatred of his enemies is what eventually destroyed his presidency. It was ironic that a man who had garnered so much public support by the electorate lost the support of the people after it was discovered he had engaged in criminal espionage on his political opponents. Nixon had done good things ,but it was tarnished by his misdeeds. He lamented so in his last speech to his supporters after he resigned. Saying you are free does not necessarily make it so. We must forever be vigilant and the press has a job to always ask tough questions. People today believe that the press and the ruling parties are in the same bed and that they are merely protecting the elites interest in power and money. I myself refuse to be governed by robots and sensors. If government can not protect the constitution, which is what they swore an oath to do, then they need to resign as Nixon did.  Say what you may about Nixon, but at least in the end he realized that he had violated that oath and the good will of the people. In the end he yielded to the people and resigned.

ScottPrelwitz
ScottPrelwitz

As long as we, the people can record and take pictures of law enforcement and other government officials.  One good security option deserves to be swung the other way.

DeNorte
DeNorte

A lot of private homes also have public facing cameras too, as the price of these fall and the quality and flexibility increases.

maryjane0915
maryjane0915

I have watched the clip of the brothers walking down the street one behind the other bebore the bombs went off. the first part of that clip I can't find again But if you look at the whole thing there is something interesting in it. Older brother waking first little behind is the younger brother THAN a little hehind him is a third guy with a baseball cap on a backpack and also carring a small case of some kind in a dark jacket THAN a little behind him is a fourth guy Baseball cap backpack in a yellow jacket Now all 4 of these guy look like they are playing follow the leader all on the exact same route weaving in and out in step It really caught my attention

bikeamtn
bikeamtn

@maryjane0915Good public observation is always key in day to day life; DOJ, I’m sure is well aware of said person’s of interest, but ask yourself; have you ever followed some guy cutting thru the crowd on your way to the john?  There’s a difference between paranoia and facts, that’s why trained humans need to decipher such intel and why those trained to do the job need to do their job without tied hands.

HohoGreen
HohoGreen

My mother always told me, " why should you be afraid ? If you didn't do anything bad you won't be scared " Camera's only bother me if I'm caught picking my nose ...

PaulRandall
PaulRandall

Where is Sen. Rand Paul on this issue, as well as Miranda rights for all American citizens. It's impossible not to notice that the politicians who claim the mantle of unconstitutional defender and vote against sensible gun control laws quickly abandon it when it comes to Habeas Corpus and civil liberties in general.

pendragon05
pendragon05

How about extensive background checks on anyone who attempts to enter the country? The time has come when people can no longer use the excuse of "I moved to the USA for a better life"

SteveDelossantos
SteveDelossantos

A revolution about cameras thats funny . The French fought about no food ,my belly it hurts, your watching me how do I look on camera?

QESdunn
QESdunn

Google Search: eliminate all corruption

We are already monitored, but what is needed is ethical oversight of what is done with the information collected.

QESdunn
QESdunn

Cameras are only one instrument being monitored already.  Cell phones, power use, credit cards, purchases with member cards, rebates, internet use ... we are automatically being monitored and thinking cameras are the primary method is a big mistake.

There is nothing wrong with being monitored if ALL the information collected is ETHICALLY limited in use to prevent Illegal Allocation (corruption) from benefiting from its use.

mrshmily
mrshmily like.author.displayName 1 Like

Heck no!!! Cameras will NEVER prevent someone from an act of terror. In fact all the cameras seem to do is promote fear mongering. More people died in Texas from a fertilizer plant explosion than this piddly little attempt yet what footage do we see of it? Quit living in fear.

MarkHolland
MarkHolland like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Let's get some perspective. About 35,000 people a year are killed in motor vehicle accidents, 20,000 people are killed in violent crimes of a "non-terrorist" nature, 20,000 people a year commit suicide and hundreds of thousands die every year from smoking and obesity-related illness. Terrorism is frightening but we need to act and think like adults. It's a relatively minor problem and long before we spend billions to turn the nation into a police state we might want to focus on the much larger risks to our lives.

TiSentinel65
TiSentinel65

@MarkHolland  I agree with that. We are going bankrupt trying to fight the war on terror. I am sure the many defense contractors will want to keep us going on this forever. At some point we need a stronger diplomatic push to try and end terrorism world wide. I know it is considered poor mans warfare but refusing to talk  about the reasons people carry out these acts  is not solving the problem. Not talking to your enemies seems to get you no where. Are we not talking to the Taliban? Maybe something good will come of it.

HohoGreen
HohoGreen

@MarkHolland 

I understand what you mean, But what if Terrorism was small because of work you didn't see or know of ? FBI and CIA could have spoiled tons of huge plots that could have caused mass death like OKC , we just don't know... If the public hears the truth no one would feel safe to do anything , and that is when Terrorism WINS! 

QESdunn
QESdunn

@MarkHolland I agree.  But what I find interesting is the media coverage provided for these outliers.

I fully believe that these are acts orchestrated by manipulating perpetrators.  That the muslims are socially being attacked to allow the Saudi/Bush/Cheney/BinLadin-Group to steal national resources from Middle East countries.

DrewSherman
DrewSherman

No.  How about a more aware and vigilant citizenry? We are at war.  Some folks don't want to recognize that fact.  Cameras will never be as effective as 314 million sets of eyes all looking out for the safety of others and the country.  

roflagain
roflagain

Despite the over dramatization of our basic rights to privacy being violated, I am all for cameras being used everywhere as an instrument used to save lives.

UleNotknow
UleNotknow

@roflagain "... used to save lives." Oh, and that's all they'd be used for. How naive art thou???

SteveDelossantos
SteveDelossantos

Cameras saved the day in Boston ,its up to the city, shop owners to make that decision .It is not a good idea to put cameras in private areas such as restrooms ,fitting rooms.

kellyjo5150
kellyjo5150

If the FBI was so incompetent then we might not need cameras everywhere.  FBI shoulda, coulda prevented bombing by deporting Chechen terror leader or following up on intel that that was what he was.  OK so they screwed that up but AFTER bombing why would the Chechens not be on radar screen.  Cameras only are of limited use AFTER bombing.  Intelligent, street-savvy FBI agents who give a damn and don't take the easy way out are really the answer.  All the bureaucratic excuses regarding why they couldn't yank the older brother's green card for terrorist postings and domestic violence are just cover for incompetence.

YomaMa
YomaMa

@kellyjo5150 Not when you have an administration that is doing all they can to not be as aggressive.  Using the word terrorism is even difficult under this administration.  Terror attacks defined as workplace violence, honor killing now domestic abuse, jihad is a bad word, You cannot use the word Muslim and Terrorist in the same sentence.  THE NYPD is not allowed to keep surveilllance on them or the Mosques that turn out these people and are proven radical Imams and mosques.    The war on terror is over as we have been told, well FYI the enemy is still at war but we are not- the FBI I am sure one day we will find out had their hands tied.  It will take a long time as we know this administration and its transparency do not exist.  Secondly, the FBI has thwarted a multitude of attacks since 9/11- even if those are framed as set ups by others.

Evo1
Evo1 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Cameras already are everywhere. And the rapidity with which police were able to get results shows that relying on these private cameras from stores, banks, ATMs and parking lots is effective. When police have a legitimate need to see such video surveillance, this incident shows that they can easily get it in a timely manner, and that it works. What we don't need, and what we should never accept, is a system of cameras in public continuously monitored by government authorities, allowing them to surveil the activities of law-abiding citizens going about their daily lives. Just as police need a warrant showing a legitimate need in order to monitor our personal conversations, even in public, and to use GPS to continuously track our movements in public, so should they be required to show a specific need to use video to monitor our actions in public. There's no evidence that requiring them to do so in any significant way impedes their legitimate work when they have a legitimate need.

pandros042
pandros042

I believe you're much too late in the game, Mr. Cohen.  Americans' legislated and enunciated civil rights in the Constitution were destroyed long ago by the National Security Act, no thanks to Harry Truman, and by the Patriot Act.  The permanent militarization of America is a fact and legions of legally sanctioned enforcers are the order of the day.

You do well to remember that the Constitution means what the government wants it to mean.

walkerrussellc1
walkerrussellc1 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

If you aren't doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about.  If you are stepping out on your partner/spouse; if you are stealing time or material from your employer; if you are operating a vehicle illegally then you have something to worry about as well as the criminal that the surveillance is trying to capture committing a felony.  If you are somewhere you shouldn't be or doing something you shouldn't be don't hide behind privacy issues so you can do your little evils without penalty.

pandros042
pandros042

@walkerrussellc1 

Unfettered surveillance of citizens by legally sanctioned enforcers is now the order of the day in a permanently militarized nation.  We have become servants of plutocrats and political controllers who should know better than advance nazi-like policies and procedures, like the Patriot Act and drone surveillance, in the continuing destruction of the first ten amendments to the Constitution.  At the end of the day, the Constitution means what the government wants it to mean.   

chriswest1973
chriswest1973

If you want a revolution in this country, then yes, please keep infringing on our basic rights of privacy and protection.  

HohoGreen
HohoGreen

@chriswest1973 

Last time I checked I could buy a car, find a job, sleep in the corner, pick up food , so why revolt ???

I do what I want within the means of the law and no one bothers me, what more can I ask off...

sgreco1970
sgreco1970

@chriswest1973 the cheetos and coca cola revolution? Jokes aside, what you saw after the bombing; the martial law, the tanks in Boston, the hordes of armored officers and soldiers -is a tiny preview of what awaits foolish revolutionaries. What i find most odd is that those who cry revolution the loudest were dead silent when Bush began taking freedoms and privacy away.

GiimelAj
GiimelAj

In Taiwan there are cameras at every 10 steps 

notbobsaget
notbobsaget like.author.displayName 1 Like

No, never. Its widely reported that these two dumbos were FBI agents. The fbi which reported by the times also found that all terror plots were spawns of the FBI.

We dont need to record what the FBI sets up, just so they can put more cameras on the street to watch their own false flag operations on film later.

No thanks to a police state full of FBI, CIA, NSA shills.

Garzhad
Garzhad

Can't agree more. Street-level cameras, yes. Lenses trained on our door steps? No.