I have always struggled with what should be the correct balance between individual privacy and law enforcement surveillance.
I like the ubiquitous presence of cameras in places most likely to provide law enforcement opportunities to see criminal activity. Yes, that’s probably everywhere except for public restrooms and in our own homes.
The UK seems to have a more extensive video surveillance network than the US. Or perhaps that’s just my perception from watching many TV shows from across the pond.
The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has agreed to review the case of Carpenter vs The United States that challenges the practice of law enforcement agencies from collecting cellphone information without a warrant.
Timothy Carpenter and his partners committed several robberies in Ohio and Michigan. They were convicted and imprisoned. Their alibi that they were elsewhere was proved false by cellphone data collected by police that showed the suspects near each location at the time of the crimes.
The question before the Supreme Court is whether—in this era of omnipresent cellphones—extensive surveillance by police and other law enforcement agents of cellphone data is a violation of privacy if conducted without a warrant.
Although I strongly support the right to privacy, I don’t believe it is absolute. The freedom from surveillance should be respected but it should also be limited.
Law enforcement agencies should be permitted some latitude in the collection of data when investigating crimes and suspects.
Most certainly video obtained by cameras recording scenes in public locations is fair game. No one should expect privacy driving on a public roadway, when on a sidewalk, strolling in a park or any other venue that permits unrestricted access. For example, no drivers should claim an invasion of privacy if they are caught on camera driving through an intersection against a red light and subsequently fined for the infraction.
However, residents should enjoy a reasonable expectation that their private communications—whether vocal or electronic—are secure.
My unease surrounds the question of whether it is better to allow law enforcement agents to collect data before securing a search warrant or allow collection only afterward?
SCOTUS eventually will decide the issue but most likely in a limited ruling. Other challenges are inevitable.
It would be nice if there were a clear, unambiguous template to cover all possible privacy-search and seizure scenarios. But that will never be.
The best we can hope for is a careful examination of individual cases and subsequent rulings that attempt to maintain a healthy balance between competing rights.
It’s not a satisfactory answer to my concern but the probably the only realistic one in a democratic republic.