Editorial: Cities using federal grants for surveillance is overkill
Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 22:10
ANew York Times article this week detailed the growing practice of cities and municipalities using federal funds and grants to increase surveillance. Methods include license plate readers, toll payment trackers, radiation sensors and even drones – a device you most frequently hear in reference to the war on terrorism in the Middle East. While we certainly appreciate the need for public safety, it seems that such tactics being utilized for local crime is overkill and not the right approach.
Right here in Connecticut, for example, 10 police departments in and around Hartford joined forces in 2009 to create a database featuring more than 3.1 million records of more than one million vehicles. Its existence was only revealed in Feb. 2012, implying that the numbers have only increased since then. In the past few years, Connecticut has considered such legislative measures as setting up red-light enforcement cameras at intersections. Would such measures be a greater infringement on privacy than a boon to crime-fighters? It’s a serious risk worth considering.
Regarding a relatively recent surge in such tools used in Oakland, Calif., the New York Times writes “Proponents of the Oakland initiative, formally known as the Domain Awareness Center, say it will help the police reduce the city’s notoriously high crime rates. Critics say the program, which will create a central repository of surveillance information, will also gather data about the everyday movements and habits of law-abiding residents, raising legal and ethical questions about tracking people so closely.” Unlike Oakland, Connecticut fortunately does not have a notoriously high crime rate, so we should be especially vigilant against instituting or perpetuating measures that violate civil liberties.
Some cities are already fighting back. The Seattle City Council mandated its police return a federally financed drone, while Iowa City adopted a moratorium on many surveillance devices and programs.
It has been well publicized that municipal reliance on federal funds has often increased since the Great Recession hit, with cities across the country strapped for cash. Yet that is not a reason for cities to go overboard in using federal dollars for such unnecessarily controversial and provocative purposes as buying drones. What decreases domestic crime above all else is a solid economy and low unemployment, not drones monitoring our every move.