Americans should be aware of the rules governing this type of surveillance in their jurisdiction, suggests the New York Times. It’s one thing to be identified by the police once you’re detained; it’s another for the police to be able to identify you at a distance without having to say a word to you.
This use of facial recognition could potentially have a stifling effect on First Amendment-protected activity such as protests. Citizens may be less willing to take part if they think the police are able to catalog their participation and see where else they’ve appeared in public.
The same concern applies to drones, which, although still comparatively rare, will also be a regular part of police departments’ tool kits soon. The New York Police Department has in the past strongly resisted calls for information about its drone records.
Americans care about this. Analysis of online behavior suggests, unsurprisingly, that some changed their online search behavior after Edward Snowden’s revelations that the National Security Agency had engaged in widespread internet surveillance.
The relationship between security and liberty is often described as a balancing act. This act can’t take place if we’re not informed about the technology used to safeguard our security.
That’s why, when it comes to surveillance technology, the American people should demand to know whether the police are spying on them. At the moment, those who are suspected of being Muslim extremists are prime targets, and innocent people caught in this effort face immediate concerns. In the past, Communists, civil rights leaders, feminists, Quakers, folk singers, war protesters and others have been on the receiving end of law enforcement surveillance.
No one knows who the next target will be. What we do know is that it’s difficult to put surveillance equipment back in the box it came from.
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