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Surveillance Rights for the Public? 273

Ian Lamont writes "Mike Elgan has an interesting take on surveillance technology, and how audio and video recordings should be used in private and public life. He cites the case of a New York City Police Detective who was secretly taped by a suspect during an interrogation that the detective initially denied took place during the suspect's murder trial, as well as a case involving two parents in Wisconsin who slipped a voice-activated recorder in their son's backpack after suspecting he was being abused by his bus driver. In the first case, even though the detective was later charged with 12 counts of perjury, Elgan notes that the police interrogation probably would not have taken place had the suspect announced to the detective that he was recording the session. In the second case, the tape was initially ruled inadmissible in court because Wisconsin state law prohibits the use of 'intercepted conversations' (it was later allowed as evidence). Elgan argues that there should be no questions about members of the public being allowed to record such interactions."
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Surveillance Rights for the Public?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 03, 2008 @07:26PM (#21902638)
    A member of the public should have an absolute right to record anything said or done by a person in government or the police, when that event may later be used in evidence against him or her in court.
    • by HTH NE1 ( 675604 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @07:35PM (#21902730)
      Yet in practice, business owners can and do ban you for life from their premises for operating your own video camera. Even in places that sell their own disposable still cameras for the use of patrons.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 03, 2008 @07:39PM (#21902776)
        He said government. You said private business owners. See the difference?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        "Yet in practice, business owners can and do ban you for life from their premises for operating your own video camera."

        Sounds like a load of BS to me. How do they "enforce" this ban?

        First, they need to be able to ID you - and that's not going to happen, since you have NO obligation to give them any ID, under any circumstances.

        Second, if they try to enforce the ban 6 months later, you only have to say "What are you talking about?" What are they going to do - call the cops? To do what? Throw you out fo

    • by adona1 ( 1078711 )
      Yes....one of the reasons that police etc are obliged to state that they are recording an interview is because society gives them a certain amount of power, and it is one of the ways to try and ensure that it isn't abused. However, one of the caveats of that added power is the constant vigilance to be sure it is used responsibly, and if that involves the public secretly recording police, then I'm all for it (I'm not sure how a bus driver fits in there, but hey).

      It's all not ideal, of course....I'd honestl
      • "Yes....one of the reasons that police etc are obliged to state that they are recording an interview is because society gives them a certain amount of power,"

        And, who exactly is 'society'? Did we say we give away that power, because we will not be utilizing it ourselves?
      • by Gyga ( 873992 )
        The bus driver fits in because they are in a position of power over the kid. Police are in positions of power over civilians, teachers/bus drivers over students, and so on. When you are forced by law to take the bus or be policed by police then you have the right to watch over those people. In the case of stores, you aren't being forced to shop there, therefore you have don't have the right to record what happens (private property and all).
        • Would you be so kind as to clarify: who has the right to watch over whom?

          I'd be apt to think that those being overseen, and their parents/guardians in the case of minor children, have the right to surveil the overseers to determine that the overseers aren't abusing their powers. In those cases, the surveillance is at least partly acceptable because in the case of one party accusing another of some misdeed, it provides an independent record to either confirm or deny the accuser's statement.

          However, in the
          • by Gyga ( 873992 )
            We agree on your first point.

            On the second point you do have the right to video tape in the parking lot (still the store's privite property) You don't get thrown out for havign a camera in a parking lot. But the store is privite property, you have a right to set cameras up in your house and through out other people's (paparazi can be thrown of privite property), the store can have cameras in their building.

            By the way, most stores I have been to have their video survalence signs posted at the entrance
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MightyYar ( 622222 )
        I think that it should just come down to common sense - whether or not there should be an expectation of privacy. I don't think an on-duty bus driver should have any sort of expectation of privacy - nor should a police officer when on duty.

        A person who believes himself to be alone in the bathroom has an expectation of privacy. A catholic parishioner in the confession booth has an expectation of privacy.

        There are gray areas, but perversely that is what makes life so colorful.
    • by wish bot ( 265150 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @07:39PM (#21902786)
      Even further - every 'public' surveillance camera should be IP based and available to viewing by anyone over the net.
      • So some clever criminals can hack the system and render it not just useless, but totally misleading.
        Every system implies a work-around.
        • You could have a one-way feed from the cameras to a server farm that dishes out the video. The worst the hackers could do is break the public-facing server farm.

          And "server farm" could be "gumstix with usb video converter" sitting on the same pole as the camera itself.
          • If you think about it from the standpoint of the pure information, you can come up with a plethora of schemes ranging from mere nuisance stuff to the truly diabolical.
    • Define "member of the public". Does this include an off-duty officer? an elected/non-elected official? prosecutor? sheriff? bounty hunter? soldier?

      (Same for "person in government".)

  • by corsec67 ( 627446 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @07:35PM (#21902726) Homepage Journal
    If surveillance camera are allowed, then why are people not allowed to hand-hold or otherwise have a camera on them?

    If you complain about hidden cameras on a person, what about hidden cameras in a building, either with a pinhole lens, one-way mirror, or a dark dome over the camera?

    Why should recording anything a police officer does during his working hours be bad?

    If they want to make me having a camera on me illegal, make having any kind of surveillance camera illegal first, and then we can talk.
    • by corsec67 ( 627446 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @07:51PM (#21902948) Homepage Journal
      I hate to reply to myself, but I am not sure that everyone knows what a "pinhole lens" is for CCTV cameras, as I didn't know when I was buying this stuff.

      A CCTV pinhole lens is a lens that has a very small front opening usually 2-3mm, and a narrow lens part that can easily be embedded into the back side of a wall and then be almost invisible on the other side.

      An example is here [flickr.com], compared to a normal CCTV type lens. That lens is $20 from B&H, and the camera is $120 from NewEgg, so this stuff isn't very expensive. A "high quality" CCTV lens is $50-$100, so even the good stuff isn't that expensive.
    • by Bryansix ( 761547 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @07:59PM (#21903044) Homepage
      Police Officers should be surveiled anytime they are in public whether they are working or not. They should be held to much higher standards then the public they police.
    • by Loki P ( 1170771 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @08:41PM (#21903572)
      A friend of mine was a teacher for a while, until a student with severe attention deficit disorder decided to record lessons in order to prove that my friend the teacher was picking on him. Here's the recipe: record what someone says, edit on home computer to make it say what you want it to say, play to parents, get parents to visit school with you, get teacher in trouble. That the school took the kid's word for it without any forensic analysis of the recording shows you what's wrong with the idea of surveillance for the masses - it can be incredibly easily fabricated, edited or modified by computer-savvy kids and the adults are clueless or powerless to stop the false accusations from flying. My friend gave up teaching soon after and went to make money at a tech company instead. What's needed is integrity checks in the recordings to highlight where omissions or changes are made, otherwise it's no better than hearsay.
      • by corsec67 ( 627446 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @08:52PM (#21903692) Homepage Journal
        Yes, but there is the same problems with the government doing surveillance. Tapes can be lost or destroyed, and recordings can be altered (as you said).

        What about a normal accusation against a teacher: what if that kid had said that the teacher had sexually assaulted the kid? There is no evidence, nothing to alter, but there is going to be some serious problems for the teacher, especially when that teacher is male. In fact an altered recording would be easier to detect than many other kinds of false allegations.

        Yes, recordings can be bad, but not much more so than some other kinds of accusations, and they can be very helpful, just look at all of the tasering videos on YouTube. Most of them don't show the start of the incident, but some show a subject that is completely in custody being tortured with a taser. Would the government release any tapes they had made of those incidents, or would the tapes just be "disappeared"?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by smoker2 ( 750216 )
      A dark domed camera is not a hidden camera,in the same respect as your other definitions. You know there may be a camera under the dome, but you have no idea which way it is pointing, so your risk assessment changes. It allows fewer cameras to be operated for the same deterrent effect. (360 degree field of view coverage without necessarily recording in any particular direction).
  • by FromTheAir ( 938543 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @07:40PM (#21902796) Homepage
    I think corruption in government by individuals (government is just a label) is far more damaging than all the other system created criminals. In the web content for Infinite Play the Movie (the movie that blends with reality) http://www.infiniteplaythemovie.com/ [infiniteplaythemovie.com] this is exactly what happens. Citizens start doing sting operations and monitoring individuals in government and major corporations. They then anonymously post it on you tube and the Internet for all to know. Transparency In Government is a requirement. Government does not own or pay for anything the citizens do. It is not the authority the citizens are, government is just a label it cannot think or make decisions. It is people with names that make the decisions that affect our lives and destroy a fair playing field. Individuals in government are the employees of each citizen.
  • by Butisol ( 994224 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @07:40PM (#21902802)
    I think legislative representatives should be under total surveillance by the public during the conduct of their meetings with lobbyists. Every representative should have to hold some kind of open "court" that is recorded when they are doing their work. Fuck this behind closed doors crap. If it's not a national security issue, the public ought to know exactly what politicians are up to. Corporations and interest groups shouldn't be allowed to plead their issue to representatives of the people without the ability for the people to scrutinize their stated positions.
  • political uses (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sharp3 ( 1195261 )
    "Why not use required surveillance to expose or prevent backdoor wheeling and dealing? When our representatives meet with special interest groups, corporate executives or other people out to buy influence, it's not something that's personal or private for the elected politician. There should be special lobbyist meeting rooms with cameras running 24/7. If congressmen and others meet with lobbyists outside the rooms, they go to jail for corruption. This is the people's business, and we have the right to know
    • by Chyeld ( 713439 )
      The guy who doesn't want to go to jail because he happened to accidently bump into a lobbyist in the supermarket and start talking to them before they realize what's going on?
  • From the article about the bus driver:

    Wisconsin state law generally prohibits the disclosure of intercepted conversations, leaving the appeals court in a bit of a tight spot.
    Why is it wrong to use such evidence? Provided the jury can tell nothing is being taken out of context, why can evidence like that be so easily dismissed?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by postbigbang ( 761081 )
      Disclosure is balanced against the unwary. Privacy, while not a specific right in the US Constitution, has many theories of protection, starting with the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 14th Amendments. These include right of association (do not give my conversation to someone I don't want to associate with), freedom of speech protections, right of denial of self-incrimination, and others.

      The evidence in the suspect's discussion might criminally confess either party. The evidence in the school bus case also, with the additi
    • by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )
      I can't speak for Wisconsin, but in many states you must be a party to the conversation or have the consent of at least one party to the conversation to record it. On the face, if they snuck the recorder in the child's pack, they didn't even have consent of the child. The child may be a not-legally consenting but willing participant in the abuse and protective of the abuser (often the situation in a statutory rape case). A fuller look at the facts on appeal and you could have the consent requirement negated
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Provided the jury can tell nothing is being taken out of context, why can evidence like that be so easily dismissed?

      Um, the "Provided..." part is impossible to meet, to start with: you never can tell from the tape itself what is excluded that might change the context (especially if it is an audio tape.) And the reason the evidence can be dismissed is the same reason illegally obtained evidence used by the government is dismissed in criminal trials: the rule exists because without that sanction, there will b

  • A no-brainer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Stanislav_J ( 947290 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @07:50PM (#21902924)

    Since public employees are paid using my tax dollars, then I and every other tax-paying citizen have an absolute right to know what they are up to. Period. End of discussion.

    A lot of police departments are starting to tape all formal interrogations to cover their asses, but what we don't get to see or hear are the "pre-interrogation interrogations" -- you know, those "he's not a suspect, he's not under arrest, we're just trying to get some information" interrogations?

    • Since public employees are paid using my tax dollars, then I and every other tax-paying citizen have an absolute right to know what they are up to.

      I fail to see why you would couch your argument in an argument about money rather than civil rights vs. the governement. If you visit a different state do you expect to have fewer rights than the citizens of that state?

  • by Original Replica ( 908688 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @07:50PM (#21902932) Journal
    With the advent of the cell phone cam, have you noticed the ever increasing number of police brutality videos? [wcbstv.com] When a cop is caught breaking the law, do the other police officers maintain their vow to uphold the law or do they react like thugs in a turf war? [thenewspaper.com] This is a fundamental problem if we are truely a nation of free men who consent to being governed for the common good. If we are just a oligarchy with a happy facade then it's just the truth showing through.

    "It's critical that we retain the right to record, videotape or photograph the police while they're on duty. Not only for symbolic reasons (when agents of the state can confiscate evidence of their own wrongdoing, you're treading on seriously perilous ground), but as an important check on police excesses."http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,284075,00.html [foxnews.com]
  • Ridiculous (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DCBoland ( 700327 ) <slashdot@@@spooning...co...uk> on Thursday January 03, 2008 @07:52PM (#21902954)
    Your average slashdotter would be the first to cry foul at surveillance by authorities, and yet raise the idea of performing your own surveillance and they start licking their lips and rubbing their palms together...
    A policeman might be part of the big govermental boogeyman, but they're also an individual, with an individual's rights. Nobody would like it if a person came into their workplace and recorded them all day. Privacy is a right, and not being american I don't know if its in your constitution or not, but it doesn't matter, its a right nonetheless and one every person should be entitled to.
    • Privacy is a "right" when you are in private. The US Consitution actually prohibits any silliness of Privacy in public though through its freedom of the press.
    • A policeman might be part of the big govermental boogeyman, but they're also an individual, with an individual's rights.

      The average slashdotter is contending that the policeman be watched, not to punish him, but because he is performing official duties. He is, while on duty, an agent of the government, and during so, he has different rights and privledges. He can speed/run red lights/etc. He has a lower standard for using force. He has arrest powers. He becomes immune to some forms of torts. He also

    • Re:Ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JCSoRocks ( 1142053 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @08:13PM (#21903204)
      Your average slashdotter doesn't have the opportunity - the responsibility (according to some) - to taze, beat, shoot, and otherwise injure or subdue citizens. Additionally, most employees are monitored by their boss because their boss works in close proximity to them. This isn't the case with police officers. They travel all over the city, county, state, etc, on their own. As taxpayers and citizens within their jurisdiction we are collectively "their bosses". It's our responsibility to speak up when things aren't being handled correctly. *That* is why you should have the right to record what they do on their job.
      When they go home they can do whatever they like. I have no desire to watch them eat, sleep, whatever. But when they have a gun on their hip, I don't think it's unreasonable to hold them responsible for their actions. When you lose the ability to audit your government and the forces it uses to control its citizens you will quickly find your freedoms taken away.
      • When they go home they can do whatever they like. I have no desire to watch them eat, sleep, whatever. But when they have a gun on their hip, I don't think it's unreasonable to hold them responsible for their actions.

        You do realize that most police officers are required to carry a firearm at all times, right? At least in NJ...

        And that a police officer, off duty, is still required to act in a police capacity should an event requiring plice intervention occur...

        It's not like a cashier boy at McDonalds -- c

    • by Chyeld ( 713439 )
      Your average /.er would also be smart enough to recognize the difference between recording a public official in the performance of their job and recording the private life of a private citizen.

      Your above average /.er would probably also be smart enough to realize that we already expect servants of the public to place on hold or willingly suspend certain rights they have as private citizens when they are performing their public duties, as part of the necessarily higher standard we hold them to.
    • A policeman might be part of the big govermental boogeyman, but they're also an individual, with an individual's rights.

      Yes, and if the tape is used against them personally, rather than against the government when it attempts to prosecute another person, most people who favor unlimited surveillance by the public targetting the government would be happy to see the police officer have the protections available to any member of the public.

  • Guy: Officer, do you mind if I now turn on my voice recorder and record our conversation?

    Officer: No go right ahead. Is it on? Good. Smack! Now listen you punk...
  • Recording speech should be like handling a firearm. If you are not harassing others with it, or using it to commit a crime, you should not be stopped from carrying it in public or using it in self-defense against anyone--even cops when they are behaving violently and illegally. You want to know why there is little justice today? I'll tell you why. Legal technicalities. The bus driver was breaking the law in a serious way. She had no good argument for why she should not have to deal with the recorder. Under
    • The most specious argument along these lines is the one that if we didn't drop cases where the police really screw up, they'd have no incentive to not break the rules to get evidence. Excuse me? Anyone who believes that stupid line hasn't been paying attention, nor do they give two shits about the victim's right to justice. So what if another party screwed up? The fact is, the person still committed a crime against a private citizen.

      How would you know? The whole point is that by breaking the rules, you'v

  • Elgan argues that there should be no questions about members of the public being allowed to record such interactions.

    IANAL, but in California I am reasonably certain that the conversation may only be recorded if (a) both parties know the conversation is being recorded and (b) both parties consent to the conversation being recorded. If both conditions are not met then the recording is not admissable as evidence in state court (i.e. the conversation never took place as far as they are concerned). This is why many customer support lines inform callers to the effect: "your call may be monitored or recorded and you agree to t

    • Yes, and that California law is complete shit. If I was on a jury and I eventually found out that such evidence was being withheld or was told it was "circumstantial" I would take that completely into consideration and act on that factual information instead of this made up fairy fantasy land created by the stupid courts! Facts are facts. You can't act like something didn't happen because people didn't consent to it happening.
  • Let us say that theoretically it is possible to extract some kind of evidence from an advanced neurological scan that would show an event or even a conversation had indeed happened. Let's go further and imagine that some of the details of this conversation could be extracted. Further than that even, let us speculate that it can be possible to distinguish between false memory and real memory to such a degree as to make human memory admissible as evidence.

    I bring up this situation because I think that one day
  • I've been thinking about a number of situations in which you might want to surreptitiously record what you say and hear, which makes me want to ask, what are the best suited devices and setups for wire-tapping yourself?

  • Like it or not ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 03, 2008 @08:46PM (#21903622)
    Like it or not, ubiquitous surveillance is exactly the kind of society we're headed toward.

    With today's technology we have this
    http://www.peppersprayinc.com/eyeglasses_camera.htm [peppersprayinc.com]
    and this
    http://eyeglasscamera.com/ [eyeglasscamera.com]
    and this
    http://www.pimall.com/NAIS/sunglasscam.html [pimall.com]
    and this
    http://www.spycentre.com/body_worn_video.htm [spycentre.com]
    - ... now just flash forward ten years and try to imagine just how utterly impossible it will be to completely avoid the possibility of covert surveillance and recording.

    Get used to it, because in a few more years anything you do that is interesting, annoying, or otherwise memorable will be posted to the equivalent of youtube, by somebody, within seconds.
  • Brin (Score:4, Informative)

    by Metasquares ( 555685 ) <slashdot@nospAM.metasquared.com> on Thursday January 03, 2008 @09:19PM (#21903984) Homepage
    David Brin also explored this concept. IIRC, the book was called "The Transparent Society".
    • This is the first time I've gone to post a Brin/Transparent society reference on an appropriate /. story and found someone had beaten me to it.

      Too bad Brin seems to have decided to jump on the software patent cart in his new venture...
  • In thinking about some of the other comments, I wonder how many people accused of crimes have been able to subpoena CCTV footage from police cameras and private surveillance in the same way that police seem to be able to.

    It seems to me only fair that citizens should have as much latitude to monitor the public affairs of our government employees as they do us. But we should also have equal ability to access surveillance footage that is taken of us all daily without our consent in order to clear our names or
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hyades1 ( 1149581 )

      A friend of mine who was charged with drunk driving attempted to get the police tape of her subsequent interview at the station. It would have proved without question that the arresting officer who described "slurred speech and a disoriented state" was a liar. I can speak with authority on her condition, because I was her "one phone call" and saw her almost immediately.

      The tape, of course, was "lost".

      I'm certain this is not an isolated case. It cries out for some kind of legal accountability.

  • cameras everywhere will not create a big brother society

    it will in fact bolster people's freedoms like never before

    because the government doesn't have a monopoly on technology
  • Our senses already provide a reasonably detailed record of what happens on a moment to moment basis. The only (relevant) difference between an electronic surveillance tool and your own brain is the ability to play back what happened to a third party. Thus, it cannot the recording per se that they are be objecting to. If it were, wiping your memory would be ok, and I don't think anyone would advocate that even if it were possible.

    When you understand that they must be objecting to something other than reco

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