Security surveillance cameras have become a necessity for homes, businesses, subways, street corners and almost all other public places. Today, it is normal to catch a glimpse of security cameras gazing down on us; sometimes even without video surveillance signs to warn us of their presence.
In this article, we’ll briefly look at how people feel about being caught on surveillance cameras. Obviously not everyone finds delight in this experience, even then how does personal privacy and public interest balance itself on this issue.
No one can deny the essential nature of camera security systems; they have been influential in curbing crimes, ensuring order and saving our society millions. But what is the price of safety?
Many argue that a security surveillance camera wipes out the concept of privacy. A commentator on Debate.org argues that, though government employees use these systems, what if our security agencies become infiltrated by unscrupulous people? Public security cameras, originally meant for security, may be used to further crime.
For this section of the public, being caught on surveillance camera amounts to a great violation of their rights. It’s important to note that most of these people have no reservations against possessing surveillance equipment in their homes for protection.
John McCarthy, a Lawyer and advocate against public security cameras, puts it like this, “we’re not saying these gadgets are bad. On the contrary, they’re quite good and that’s exactly why they could be used by criminals to further their activities.”
On the other hand, there are those who hail these gadgets. Their argument is; yes it does infringe on our privacy to an extent, but if it exposes criminals and ensures safety and order, why should we complain. According to an Anonymous commentator on Debate.org “If you’re not doing anything wrong, why would you care that they [security cameras] were there?”
Generally, people put on their best behavior in front of security cameras and today they seem to be almost everywhere. If these gadgets ensure order across our cities, how can we question them over an abstract scenario of security officials going corrupt? If you’ve got nothing to hide, why worry?
This is the strong line position of this section of the public, who embrace the idea of surveillance cameras and find absolutely nothing wrong with being caught on them.
The opponents of these gadgets also question their effectiveness. Quite a number of the anti-public surveillance camera commentators on forums we sampled brought up this scenario; if someone wore a mask and committed a crime (as has been the case several times), regardless of the presence of the best surveillance cameras, it would be difficult to apprehend the criminal.
Whilst this is true, it must be noted that in such scenarios the footage from the security cameras would give investigators a basis to begin their search (the perpetrators height, build, voice and other characteristics). These little details have proven to be beneficial in bringing seemingly untraceable criminals to justice.
There is also the argument that security cameras are a waste of money and represents nothing but the ostentatious inclination of our society. This can’t stand, however, because there are cheap outdoor and indoor security camera systems which are just as efficient as their expensive counterparts.
Overall, a large percentage the respondents we sampled expressed an indifference to being caught on security cameras, provided it doesn’t infringe on their privacy in any tangible way. According to May Kelly, an aspiring actress, “if it’s not being used to track me, rob me or take anything material from me, why do I care?”
The debate of public interest versus personal liberty has been ongoing since the early days of our societies. And needless to say it would always be here. As technology evolves and security becomes more mechanical, the hailers of individual liberty over public interest are bound to become more vocal.
But in advocating for personal liberty, we seem to ignore the fact that every society exists as a sort of contract—a contract between its members to exist as a unit in order to further their collective interests.
Taking the debate from this angle, public interest will always trump personal liberty when analyzed in a societal context, since being part of a society represents an insinuated acceptance to put the collective interest over one’s own.
This notwithstanding, the door of this debate remains wide open since we’re in a democracy.
It seems, however, that both sides of this great debate can reach a middle ground on hidden camera equipment. From both sides, even from the governments’, hidden cameras, when used publicly and without the consent of the subjects under surveillance, amounts to an unjustifiable breach of privacy, and in some countries this is actionable.