Surveillance Essay, Research Paper


Government surveillance in the United States is controversial for many citizens. There are many questions facing citizens, a few being: what are the costs and benefits, should we give up privacy for a lower crime rate, and what will the future look like? Great Britain already has an extensive government surveillance system with 250,000 cameras with full pan, tilt, and zoom, and still has plans to increase that number (?Are You Being Watched?). This level and type of surveillance is not justifiable in the United States. Nor is the level and type of surveillance depicted in the film The End of Violence justifiable. The social aspects at hand need to be scrutinized much more before an accurate decision can be made.

One dominating issue is invasion of privacy. The right of privacy is guaranteed to every citizen in the United States and this would be infringed upon if the type of surveillance in The End of Violence were implemented in the United States. The First Amendment Handbook states, ?Privacy is invaded when one intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon a person?s solitude or into his private area of affairs? (ch. 8). Now, the question needed to be answered is would there be invasion of privacy with such a surveillance system as the one in The End of Violence? Obviously with the technology of full pan, tilt, and zoom, the capability is there. Cameras today are so advanced that they can read the words on a cigarette packet from 100 meters away (?The all-seeing eye: Big Brother? 52). As was shown in The End of Violence, a woman’s privacy was violated by the surveillance operator. He directed a camera to her apartment window and zoomed in on her while she was in the privacy of her home. She had no knowledge she was being watched let alone being videotaped. According to Article IV of the Constitution of the United States, ?The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated?(Declaration 83). This woman’s rights were definitely violated. Real life examples are already on the rise. In Concord, California, a male security guard used store surveillance cameras to zoom in on the cleavage of an unsuspecting JC Penney Sales manager (Hancock 52). With a surveillance system such as the one in The End of Violence there is no doubt that the privacy of citizens would be violated.

The issue of cost also weighs heavily on deciding whether such a surveillance system is beneficial to society. The price of an extensive surveillance system is tremendous. The cost of all the equipment is enough to make every citizen believe there are better ways to lower crime and spend tax dollars. Yet, the cost is not just the equipment. The cost becomes enormously higher once one figures in all the wages for all the people operating and monitoring the cameras. Inevitably, there would be people suing the government over privacy rights issues, and also suing the government for abusing its powers. Costs would include lawyer fees, judicial court time, and settlement claims and payments; all which would come out of tax dollars. For example, when the FBI blatantly abused its powers, killing three people in the Ruby Ridge fiasco, Randy Weaver filed suit against the government. He now has settlement claims totaling 3.1 million dollars from the government (Shade). Simple invasion of privacy lawsuits would also be viable. For example, in Williams v. ABC, a plaintiff successfully sued a television station when her hip surgery was filmed without her consent (First Amendment Handbook, ch. 8). ?The presence of television cameras in private surgery was held to be an intrusion ? a violation of the women?s privacy? (First Amendment Handbook, ch. 8). There are also other costs besides that of money. There is the cost of giving up privacy. This cost depends on how much someone values their civil liberties of privacy. Furthermore, giving more power to the government costs’ citizens increased paranoia and uneasiness. Summarizing, the total costs of such a surveillance system greatly out weigh the small benefits that may be seen.

People arguing for a government surveillance system obviously have not compared the costs and benefits associated with a surveillance system. Proponents believe that a government surveillance system will lower crime. They try to evince that in Great Britain, surveillance has resulted in a 35 percent reduction in crime (?Are You Being Watched?). Yet, they really do not know if the 35 percent reduction is the result of surveillance. Contributing to the 35 percent reduction could be other programs that have already been established. Just because there is a 35 percent reduction in crime does not mean it was solely because of the surveillance system. The possibility of reducing crime is the benefit proponents see. The key word though is possibility. Further, the amount by which crime would be reduced is unclear.

Thirdly, giving more power for the FBI to abuse is very dangerous. Today, the FBI already abuses its powers, and to give them the power of a high-tech surveillance system would only call for more abuse and wrong doings. The standoff in Waco, Texas is one prime example of this misuse. The ATF and then later the FBI used their powers to hide, cover up, and confuse the public about the illegal action they partook in. The film Waco: Rules of Engagement does an excellent job exposing ATF and FBI lies and their illegal actions. A few examples of their horrible actions are as follows:

Knowing that the gas masks would not fit on the little kids in the compound, the FBI still decided in inserting CS gas. This CS gas made the spine?s of the little children bend backwards. Experts say the amount of CS powder in the compound probably incapacitated and killed some of the adult Davidians. The FBI actually started the compound on fire not the Branch Davidians. Then they bull dozed the entire compound to destroy all the evidence. The end result, 80 innocent people were murdered (Waco: Rules of Engagement).

Another example where the FBI abused their powers was in 1992 in the Ruby Ridge incident. Here, the FBI wrongly murdered Randy Weaver?s wife and son (Oliver). Details of this horrific event can be found all over the Internet and in the book The Federal Siege at Ruby Ridge, in our Own Words. Continuing, wrongdoing was also seen in The End of Violence. In the film, misuse was seen even before the surveillance system was totally operational. The FBI misused the system to murder three people and to invade the privacy of many citizens (The End of Violence). Furthermore, the film The End of Violence did not show any system of ?check and balances.? For example, the way our legislative body operates under. Obviously with out any ?check and balances? there is going to be abuse.

In conclusion, proponents of government surveillance systems argue that the system would lower crime rate. As shown, the issue of privacy, total costs, and the potential for abuse clearly out weigh the small benefits that may or may not be seen. Is the benefit of a lower crime rate really worth the price? There are other solutions that exist which do not have as high of costs. One solution is Head Start, a program recently begun in inter-city areas, which moves children off the streets and teaches them crime and violence is not the answer. Ultimately though, since the United States is a democracy, the public will decide whether or not they want government surveillance. Yet presently, the United States is not ready for such a surveillance system as the one shown in the film The End of Violence.


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