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Op−Ed | Security cameras are acceptable

Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012

Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2012 08:10

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MCT

Last month, Tufts Department of Public and Environmental Saftey (DPES) announced its plan to place security cameras on multiple Tufts campuses. The security camera proposal is based on installing exterior cameras in public spaces and in view, a policy that empowers DPES to pursue criminals without invading our privacy. The decision received backlash from many Tufts undergraduates. Students, like Joshua Liebow−Feeser, expressed their concern to this newspaper that cameras invade our privacy. “Such a system would be an invasion of our privacy. We all have an assumed right to privacy,” he wrote in an op−ed published on Sept. 18. But our right to privacy is not a clearly articulated right; it is based upon a complex constitutional argument that the courts continually refine.

The Constitution does not explicitly define our right to privacy. Instead, it provides us with many rights. Over time the courts have decided to support a right to privacy. Our Fourth Amendment rights are the most relevant to the lawful use of security cameras. The Fourth Amendment protects us from unwarranted searches and seizures by the government, but it does not grant us a universal right to privacy. See Katz v. United States: “the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection.” In other words, the actions we knowingly take in public view are not protected under the Fourth Amendment. If we question the use of security cameras, we must ask what our expectation of privacy is.

Justice Harlan’s concurrence in Katz v. United States explains how to determine our expectation of privacy: (1) a person needs to reflect their desire for privacy and (2) society must agree that this desire is a reasonable expectation of privacy. It is our actions, and society’s reasonable expectation of privacy, that determines our right to privacy. Therefore, because we share the campus among the Tufts community and Somerville and Medford residents, it is unreasonable to assume that what we do outside on campus is private. Although we can take individual actions that assume a right to privacy — like the defendant in Katz v. United States — DEPS’s use of security cameras would be an extension of police presence where Tufts police officers are already allowed.

Installing security cameras in public view around campus will not violate our privacy because the outside areas of campus are not considered private, and the cameras do not grant DPES extra access into our lives. The DPES Video Security FAQ page highlights the purpose and scope of security cameras: the system will be closed circuit, but TUPD will have the ability to use it in real time to provide situational awareness. Recorded video will only be kept for a month — unless needed for an investigation. Installation of security cameras will help TUPD solve and deter crime. Some technology will blur our civil liberties, but video surveillance of public areas does not constitute an unlawful search and is no more intrusive than police officers watching me walk to class.

When did Tufts students get so serious about privacy? If security cameras creep you out, I assume you do not own an iPhone or iPad, because those devices store your GPS locations for up to a year. Then there is Google, tracking everything you do, what you search, what you buy and where you are, guiding you to a specific search result. I encourage everyone to be concerned for their privacy, but let us fight real intrusions of our privacy.

The debate surrounding security cameras would be better focused on asking if cameras are the best allocation of our resources. For students who have been robbed, assaulted or sexually assaulted — as a student was on Sept. 16 — security cameras afford TUPD greater success at catching perpetrators and keeping our community safe. Students’ concerns for our privacy are welcome, but they lack a fundamental understanding of our legal rights and the security needs of our campus.

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Joshua Prince is a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. He can be reached at Joshua.Prince@tufts.edu.

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