Columbia, SC — The impulse by Columbia officials to blanket our public spaces with video surveillance is misguided, because it will make us no safer but will make us less free.
Use of surveillance tools should respect the balance between our core values of security and privacy. In the case of a serious crime, where there is probable cause and police are searching for suspects, surveillance tools may appropriately be deployed. Allowing permanent warrantless surveillance of law-abiding citizens is another matter. It is a basic tenet of our society that we do not watch people just in case they do something wrong. The potentially chilling effect of surveillance in public spaces has to be seriously weighed.
We welcome indications that Columbia police plan to create privacy protocols and oversight to protect civil liberties. Security cameras may be appropriate at high-profile public places and events. But as surveillance technologies get cheaper, we must not create a society where all of our public movements are recorded and stored forever, and the government maintains digital dossiers of millions of innocent Americans. Residents have a right to know what these protocols are and who will have access to the video footage.
Spending $700,000 in taxpayers’ money on surveillance of all citizens rather than crime-stopping tools like community policing also raises questions. Cameras do nothing to address the root causes of crime, and they are a doubtful deterrent.
We hope elected officials will demand oversight of this video surveillance and consider privacy as well as safety in making decisions about security.
ACLU of South Carolina