A series of recent events have coincided to bring to the surface the contradictions of our modern Surveillance State. In this post-Patriot Act age of widespread surveillence, when the State argues it should even be able to attach a GPS tracker to a vehicle without a warrant, there is one area that law enforcement still holds sacrosanct: citizen surveilence of the cops' own actions.
David Sirota lays the issue bare in an article on Salon.com today:
From warrantless wiretapping to data mining to the proliferation of red-light cameras, the Surveillance State is clearly on the march. And yet, when citizens occasionally exercise their constitutional rights and turn the camera on the Surveillance State itself, they increasingly face the threat of police retribution.
This issue is not going away. As the cost of "lifelogging" goes down and the number of people with camera-enabled cellphones goes up, police are going to find themselves surveiled to such a degree that they cannot escape the all-seeing eye of the public. Looking at my desk, between my iPhone, iPad and laptop, I have the functional equivalent of a mobile video production studio. I imagine many of my readers are similarly equipped.
Fortunately, there is an easy solution to these incidents: clean up our police force. I've long been a proponent of sunshine laws: open records, open meetings, and open debate. If you are doing the Public's business, what you do should be open to the public. Here are some more ideas: Better screening of police candidates for personality traits that lead to violence and abuse. More and better civilian oversight, with the teeth needed to get bad cops off the street and out from behind the badge. And police unions that understand their coddling of offenders in their ranks will not be tolerated.
As a defense attorney, I worry every day that I'll upset the wrong cop in court and find myself with a speeding ticket - or worse - on the way home from work. That I harbor these concerns in our little community speaks volumes for how far things have degraded. It is not too late to turn things around, but we have to start soon.