The Price of Safety May Be Privacy

Listen to the Story


A few weeks ago, the city of Columbus announced plans to install security cameras in several high-crime neighborhoods. Police say the cameras will help them fight crime by capturing criminal activity on videotape Also, the theory is the cameras will deter criminals from committing crimes in the first place. While it is important to reduce , some argue the cameras will violate the privacy of neighborhood residents. The debate prompts the question: is safety more important than privacy?

Americans adamantly protect their privacy. The US Supreme court has used the 9th Amendment of the Constitution to protect our privacy rights. Government officials have been fired for snooping into records. But privacy is getting harder to keep as technology advances.

Recently, there has been a rash of protests claiming invasions of of privacy from social media sites like Facebook. Advocates complain the the websites collect and share personal information without users’ consent.. For instance, just last month it was revealed that Rapleaf, a company that makes applications for Facebook, inappropriately misused user information. Yet, while arguments against Facebook and other sites raise concern about issues of online privacy, other threats to our privacy get less attention.

Office buildings and convenience stores have long used surveillance cameras to keep crime at bay. At first when government introduced traffic light cameras, people complained about the watchful eye of “Big Brother.” But once the traffic cameras became main-stream, people stopped complaining. Now, most people just ignore the presence of surveillance cameras on the corner of Broad and High. So why is it that people protest online privacy violations more than surveillance cameras?

Perhaps it is the promise of ensured safety that makes individuals comfortable with being watched? While people may not enjoy the thought of being monitored 24/7, they do enjoy the thought of a crime-free community. Red-light cameras were at first a threat to privacy, but once people realized it helped curb speeding and car accidents, the cameras were accepted. The invasion of our on-line privacy seems to offer few benefits, so the protests continue.

All of this begs the question: is safety more important than privacy? It seems to be, at least in Columbus. A recent poll on the Columbus Dispatch website shows that 80% of surveyed individuals want cameras installed in their neighborhoods. Even those individuals who live in relatively low-crime areas supported surveillance cameras. For them, installing the cameras is a small price to pay to ensure the safety of their homes and businesses. The potential risk of crime on the streets outweighed the potential violation of privacy from the cameras.

Maybe once Facebook figures out a way to fight cyber-crime and catch criminals, online threats to privacy will become acceptable? Until then, let’s just continue to protest invasions of our privacy from the comforts of our videotaped neighborhoods.