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Are Law Enforcement Cameras an Invasion of Privacy?

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Sorry, but police body-worn cameras (BWCs) are not the panacea to police performance. Rather, what was thought to prevent the police’s abusive use of power is turning into the means of reinforcing their authority and eroding the citizen’s privacy as it pairs up with facial-recognition technology. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly half of the law enforcement agencies had acquired body-worn cameras by 2016. Compared to the 25 percent of BWC utilization in 2013, the statistics from 2016 reflects the rapid implementation of BWCs. Regardless of how beneficial the cameras may be, its integration with advanced technology makes it a powerful surveillance tool which bring about alarming ethical concerns such as the invasion of privacy and freedom. Sadly, too often are these ethical drawbacks completely neglected and only the alleged benefits of BWCs are highlighted. While the implementation of body cameras in law-enforcement agencies serve a good intent to increase police accountability and transparency, the lack of appropriate laws and regulations to ensure proper use of the fast-developing technology make the BWCs a double-sided sword. Especially since police officers stand on the intersection of law, justice, and society, there is an urgent need for the law-enforcement agencies and the firms that develop the BWCs to assess the ethical costs of the tool while the legislative branch must develop a counteracting friction to prevent the technology contorting from beneficence to undisguised domination.

The U.S. police officers are well-known for their lethal force, and there are far more police shootings and violence in the US compared to other developed countries like Japan and Germany. This disparity between police force is partially explained by the fact that brutal crimes involving gun violence is much more common in the US. Unfortunately, this powerful force of the law-enforcement agents also makes police brutality one of the hottest political topics in America. Following the Ferguson protests in 2014 that occurred in response to the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was killed by a white officer, the Obama administration granted $23.2 million called Smart Policing Initiatives to expand the usage of body-worn cameras in law-enforcement agents. The goal of the expanded implementation of BWC was to raise public trust by increasing transparency.

As body-worn camera industry expanded, tech companies have been joining the camera with advanced technologies like facial-recognition and artificial intelligence. However, the use of facial-recognition technology with BWC contradicts its original purpose. As mentioned earlier, BWCs were developed in response to police violence cases as a tool to ensure transparency and better police performance. Using facial-recognition technology inverts this original intention of the community oversight of the police into the police oversight of the community. Facial-recognition technology enables each officer to act as ‘sophisticated surveillance mechanisms’. Anyone passing by a police officer will be scanned and cataloged in a database, which will then be used for the identification of bad actors. The technology creates a surveillance dragnet that converts every citizen into a suspect at all times. Fred Turner discussed how people dreamed the rise of the internet as a means to defeat authoritarianism while it ended up creating a more sophisticated era of authoritarianism. Likewise, what we dream to be the tool to end police brutality may end up contributing to the creation of the Oceania in 1984.

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Despite the ethical concerns, companies are racing to bring this dreamed surveillance equipment into reality. A group of over 40 civil rights and liberties groups wrote a joint letter to Axon, the nation’s biggest maker of BWC, expressing their ethical concerns regarding the company’s products. The letter pointed out real-time facial-recognition technology as the chief concern, emphasizing the well-documented fact that facial recognition technology disproportionately affects people of color and women. Bringing in a technology that is biased towards certain groups of population is surely unethical without doubt. Axon announced its decision to accept the recommendation of its ethics board and the joint letter and said that facial recognition will not be used in its devices, “yet”. Being the industry leader with more than 200,000 Axon cameras being in use in the country, Axon’s rare move highlights the increased ethical concerns of the tech industry. Notwithstanding, Axon is just one of the many companies developing BWCs, and Axon itself has only postponed but not banned the use of facial-recognition technology. The industry must be extremely cautious in bringing the facial-recognition equipped cameras into the market without proper safeguard to mitigate the potential negative consequences being in place.

Furthermore, facial recognition technology puts political freedom at threat. The ongoing protests in Hong Kong well demonstrate how the police use of facial-recognition can chill free speech and political movements in public spaces. With the fear of being recognized as being involved in the heated protests – as it could lead to negative consequences like job loss – people are forced to censor themselves. Addressing such ethical concerns, San Francisco became the first city in the US to ban the police use of facial-recognition technology, followed by other cities like Berkeley and Oakland. As Hopkins states, “facial recognition is a fundamental threat to society”, that can be lethal to our democracy.

Our rights to privacy and political freedom as the citizens of the US must never be subject to any trade-off, even if it is for the better performance and transparency of our own law-enforcement agencies. The apparent benefits of new technology make it alluring to implement, but as technology outpaces laws and regulations, the law-enforcement agents must be more careful regarding the potential impact beyond the intended purpose of practicing transparency and accountability while the legislative process must speed up to meet the requirements of the First and Fourth Amendments.

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Are Law Enforcement Cameras an Invasion of Privacy? (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/are-law-enforcement-cameras-an-invasion-of-privacy/
“Are Law Enforcement Cameras an Invasion of Privacy?” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/are-law-enforcement-cameras-an-invasion-of-privacy/
Are Law Enforcement Cameras an Invasion of Privacy? [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/are-law-enforcement-cameras-an-invasion-of-privacy/> [Accessed 30 Jan. 2023].
Are Law Enforcement Cameras an Invasion of Privacy? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Oct 28 [cited 2023 Jan 30]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/are-law-enforcement-cameras-an-invasion-of-privacy/
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