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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 194410 Find in a Library
Title: Privacy vs. Security: Electronic Surveillance in the Nation's Capital
Author(s): John D. Woodward Jr.
Corporate Author: Rand Corporation
United States of America
Date Published: March 22, 2002
Page Count: 11
Sponsoring Agency: Rand Corporation
Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138
Sale Source: Rand Corporation
1776 Main Street
P.O. Box 2138
Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138
United States of America
Document: PDF
Type: Legislation/Policy Analysis; Legislative Hearing/Committee Report
Format: Document
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This testimony before the Subcommittee on the District of Columbia of the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform (March 22, 2002) examines the legal issues involved in balancing privacy and security concerns in conducting electronic surveillance in the District of Columbia.
Abstract: Over a million video surveillance cameras are used in the United States, with many government entities deploying forms of electronic surveillance to monitor public places. Reasons for promoting such surveillance include preventing and detecting crime, reducing citizens' fear of crime, aiding criminal investigations through post-event analysis of surveillance tapes, better use of public safety resources, and countering terrorism. Critics of such surveillance argue that it is not in keeping with the values of an open society and may lead to abusive invasions of privacy and racially selective law enforcement. The proposed use of electronic surveillance technology in Washington, DC, however, does not violate the protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has held that government action must comply with the constitutional requirements for a search when it invades a person's reasonable expectation of privacy, the Court has found that a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to physical characteristics that are constantly exposed to the public, such as one's facial features, voice, and handwriting. Similarly, the Court has determined that "a person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another." If law enforcement officials limited their actions to comparing images of people in public places with databases of terrorists and known criminals, then information privacy concerns would be unlikely to arise. Still, the U.S. Congress is free to provide greater privacy protections than those found in the U.S. Constitution. With respect to electronic surveillance in public places, Congress has three broad policy choices: to prohibit its use; to regulate its use; or to take no immediate action pending further study. It would seem appropriate for Congress to be attentive to any solid evidence of actual harm caused by the technology or its inappropriate use. Some form of active oversight, either government-only or a cooperative effort between government officials and private citizens, would be useful to quell fears about the technology's use and to ensure that it will not be abused. Future use of the technologies is also discussed.
Main Term(s): Domestic Preparedness
Index Term(s): Counter-terrorism tactics; District of Columbia; Electronic surveillance; Privacy and security; Visual electronic surveillance
Note: Testimony before the Subcommittee on the District of Columbia of the Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives on March 22, 2002; downloaded April 25, 2002.
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