Privacy Matters: the Personal, the Public and the Police

Digby at Hullabaloo notes that occasionally even David Brooks can be correct.

Privacy is important to the development of full individuals because there has to be an interior zone within each person that other people don’t see. There has to be a zone where half-formed thoughts and delicate emotions can grow and evolve, without being exposed to the harsh glare of public judgment. There has to be a place where you can be free to develop ideas and convictions away from the pressure to conform. There has to be a spot where you are only yourself and can define yourself.

Privacy is important to families and friendships because there has to be a zone where you can be fully known. There has to be a private space where you can share your doubts and secrets and expose your weaknesses with the expectation that you will still be loved and forgiven and supported.

Privacy is important for communities because there has to be a space where people with common affiliations can develop bonds of affection and trust. There has to be a boundary between us and them. Within that boundary, you look out for each other; you rally to support each other; you cut each other some slack; you share fierce common loyalties.

Privacy for normal citizens going around their everyday personal, family and community lives is essential for our very sanity, which is why the question of government agencies monitoring our every keystroke is such an important question of liberty. But as Brooks points out in his NYT op-ed and as Digby elucidates further, privacy for police officers on duty is a very different question.

I wouldn’t ever begrudge police officers a dime for what they do. But that also comes with the responsibility to follow the law and the constitution and there are just too many perverse incentives and too much of a military culture in police work not to use the safeguards that body cams bring to the task.

It’s a delicate balance. But there’s a huge difference between the government using technology to intrude on the most private thoughts and habits of average Americans without cause and using it to ensure that police interactions with citizens are proper. After all, there’s nothing new in having police give a report after an incident. All that’s different about this is that there will now be independent documentation to back up what they say.

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2 comments for “Privacy Matters: the Personal, the Public and the Police

  1. C. Auguste Dupin
    April 16, 2015 at 11:19 am

    One problem has already arisen: there are already news organizations that want the right to view all police body cam videos from any police officer on demand. The problem is that these requests, so far, are without regard to whether or not there was any suspicion of malfeasance on part of the officer, or evidence against a suspect.

    Body cameras for police are a good idea, but I’m troubled by the idea of news outlets scanning through police videos looking for anything they might think is news worthy, even in mundane, normal police interactions with private citizens. Police have the authority to pull over your car for a broken tail light. With a warrant they have the authority to search your car, personal belongings, your person, and your house. If news organizations can have unfettered access to these videos, so can other government agencies. Police cameras can easily be used as a tool to spy on innocent citizens.

    With every new technology or new use of a technology laws often need to be rewritten to account for constitutional and civil protections. States, cities and counties need policies and legislation to allow these videos to inform public opinion on police tactics and criminal behavior by perpetrators, but also to protect private citizens from having every routine interaction with police becoming public knowledge .

  2. ZugTheMegasaurus
    April 16, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    I don’t agree with most of what Brooks is saying, and that’s because I don’t agree with his characterization of police officers. They are not being asked to wear cameras 24/7, in those times that privacy is important (as in the examples provided). They’re being recorded on the job, for good reason. They have the power (and too often, the willingness) to damage and even end people’s lives.

    What makes me roll my eyes over this is that I’ve been videotaped and recorded at every single job I’ve ever worked. Everything from making coffee to picking up dog crap to legal work, I have always been recorded the entire time. I’m writing this from the office, and everything I do on this computer is being recorded and logged just in case I’m doing something I’m not supposed to. Why, when it comes to a profession that grants incredible power and authority, is that somehow unreasonable?

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