A requirement of a previous university assessment was to read through articles produced by my peers studying digital media and surveillance. A common theme prevalent within all of the blog’s that I elected to read, was the bleak viewpoint each piece took on the use of digital surveillance in modern society (I too was guilty of proposing such a stance).
As I sat down to begin writing this final post, it was with the intention to once again peddle the same narrative, “surveillance is bad, it violates our rights and the government just wants control”. But instead I found myself recoiling. Hang on! There has to be some substantial benefits of surveillance that we are neglecting to mention or only eluding to in an offhand manner when discussing surveillance. Therefore, within this current post I’ve attempted to explore some of the advantages surveillance offers citizens, with a particular focus on how it is being used to prevent and detect criminal acts on home soil.
Invasion of privacy has fast become buzz words echoed throughout our collective psyche. Used to wag fingers at digital tracking and collection of individual’s data by corporations, including government and defence industries. Now despite the sigh you may exhale when I say, “evidence shows surveillance measures can be used effectively in crime stopping” (not that old chestnut again), it remains unarguably a valid claim.
‘The state undermines privacy in the name of security.’ (Karatzogianni & Gak 2015, p. 132).
Analyses conducted by researcher Robert Rhodes (2007) examined the evidence in favour of “electronic eavesdropping” being employed by US law enforcement, to apprehend culprits of organised crime. Techniques such as wiretapping and digital data collection were seen to be used effectively by the governing agencies, to assemble intelligence on threatening activity and to halt illegal drug trafficking and gambling conspirators (Rhodes 2007, p. 424). Whilst Rhodes (2007, p. 423) acknowledged the cost to innocent people’s privacy when considering mass community surveillance, none the less the price was justifiable when considering the effect of disrupting these criminal acts had on public safety.
Additionally, another form of community surveillance, CCTV cameras, within public spaces has been examined by academics to test its effectiveness at managing crime rates within communities. Use of CCTV cameras, particularly in parking lots, was correlated with deterring acts of theft and vandalism (Welsh & Farrington 2009, p. 743). Moreover, a literature review undertaken by the Australian Government revealed the successful application of CCTV surveillance in detecting violent crimes and assisting significantly in reprimanding guilty perpetrators of crime in public (Australian Institute of Criminology 2010, para. 9). An example of such an application is outlined in this podcast which examines the infamous case of Jill Meagher, who’s murder was caught on CCTV camera moments before the incident took place and the footage which helped identify and convict them of their atrocious act (Sutton 2017, para. 12).
Although we recognise there are many questionable applications of surveillance technology that potentially pry into the privacy of innocent civilian’s live’s. The question we should be asking ourselves is not, whether we are okay with being open to invasion by government and defence organisations? Instead we should be asking ourselves, if we are open to being surveyed as a price for protection against any fellow society members that may wish others harm? The concept is a tough one to grapple with and by no means black and white. Good luck to each of us as we come to our conclusions about what privacy costs we are willing to accept in order to ensure community security?
Australian Institute of Criminology 2010, Effectiveness of public space CCTV systems, Australian Government, retrieved 7 September 2017, <http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/rip/1-10/08/04.html>.
Karatzogianni, A & Gak, M 2015, ’Hack or be hacked: The quasi-totalitarianism of global trusted networks’, New Formations, vol. 84, pp. 130-148, doi: 10.398/NEWP:84/85.06.2015
Rhodes, R 2007, ‘Electronic surveillance, organised crime and civil liberties’, Policy Studies Journal, vol. 7, pp. 419-425, doi: 10.1111/1541-0072.ep11833334
Sutton, C 2017, ‘Shadowed by a killer: Jill Meagher’s final walk’, News.com.au, 4 May, retrieved 8 September 2017 <http://www.news.com.au/national/victoria/shadowed-by-a-killer-jill-meaghers-final-walk/news-story/ebe461b014086b7a31c6c8d47d5ee0cf>.
Welsh, B & Farrington, D 2009, ‘Public area CCTV and crime prevention: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis’, Justice Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 716-745, doi: 10.1080/07418820802506206