Debate Forum, 2/5

Debate Forum, 2/5

Will it be surveillance, or will they just be watching us?

 By Alex Culpepper
If there are not enough reasons already to look your best when you step out, just know that you might be caught by a new camera here in town – and that camera might be attached to an aircraft flying overhead. Further, that aircraft with a surveillance camera might be up there because on Wednesday, Feb. 6, the Dayton City Commission will discuss whether to hire Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS) to put it up there. PSS is the company that has the capability to perform the aerial surveillance. The idea is to use this surveillance as a crime-fighting tool for the police department. According to PSS, this technology can monitor significant sections of the Dayton area. In fact, the resolution quality of the camera itself surpasses that of an IMAX movie camera. This benefits the police because they potentially can get photographic evidence of criminal activity, including license plate numbers.

Aerial surveillance is nothing new. Governments have used aircraft to gather photographic intelligence – also known as reconnaissance – since World War I. It was also a critical tool used to gather information during the Cold War by both the United States and the Soviet Union. The downing of U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers and his U-2 intelligence-gathering aircraft brought worldwide attention to what was happening up in the skies in 1960. Civilian use of aerial surveillance, however, is a more recent development and it is quite controversial.

Critics hail this aerial surveillance as another tool ripe for abuse. First, everything within scope of the cameras will be captured and monitored, including private residences, and that has some people concerned. Another concern is with having yet one more public camera creating a “surveillance society” in which privacy is nonexistent. Others suspect that this opens the door to unpiloted surveillance aircraft, and some fear that potentially anyone could send up a drone to monitor almost anything. Then there’s the cost. Considering that Dayton is facing budget issues, just like most other cities, some people wonder about the economics: the PSS service costs $120,000 for 120 hours of surveillance.

Then again, aerial surveillance has a pretty good resume. For many years, it has benefited those who have used it for military and intelligence purposes against foreign powers. The president of PSS asserts that aerial surveillance in the name of police work is a great thing for Dayton. He claims that his services have enhanced law enforcement in U.S. cities and abroad, having helped solve robberies, shootings and murders. With this service, crimes can be captured on film as they happen, and that would possibly lighten the load for police investigators. For proponents, this is just another example of how technology can aid cities in controlling crime.

So where does it go from here? Is this a case of sacrificing liberty for safety – and perhaps losing both? Or is this the future of law enforcement, with the emphasis on using technology to ease the stress of police on the ground? That, it seems, is up to the Dayton City Commission.

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

While aerial surveillance has been used to counter illegal activity, do laws need to be in place to protect privacy and civil liberties before allowing aircraft to fly over Dayton with surveillance cameras? Would this surveillance capability allow authorities to sidestep privacy laws in order to observe, track and examine citizens’ movements?

Debate Left: Only God should see everything

 By Marianne Stanley

Some things are just plain stupid. Some things are really crazy. Some things are fiscally irresponsible. Behold! We are about to see our own City Commission about to give the green light to all three simultaneously.

By now, you may have heard that the City of Dayton, at record speed – with virtually no notification to its citizens and no span of time for comments or even for serious review, research and consideration – is planning to spend a whopping $120,000 of our money – even though it can’t afford basic human services like funding an adequate number of teachers or police and fire personnel – for just 120 hours of unnecessary, intrusive and possibly illegal aerial surveillance of our city.

This whole thing smells funny. Who, in their right mind, would think that looking down on Dayton with cameras from two-miles up, for one seventy-third of the time, would yield any critical information? By its own admission, PSS is setting out to be an arm of police work and yet nowhere in the recent Dayton Daily News story (“Dayton considers airborne surveillance cameras” Tuesday, Jan. 29) does it say that our police department came knocking on PSS’s door, asking for help in crime prevention or assistance through aerial surveillance.

This makes one wonder where the trail leads, were we to follow the money. Who, specifically, made this supposed “request” in the first place? Why was it made? Why is PSS getting a “deal” on rental space for its offices? PSS is hoping it has successfully camouflaged its real motive by citing our country’s newest “flavor of the day” – jobs. They say they’ll employ 15 people to start. Now anyone with a head for figures – or access to a calculator – can see that this would necessitate their doing their 120 flights for free, but that it would mean they would be paying these 15 poor schmucks $8,000 a year in salary, putting each way under the poverty level. None of this is true, of course. They will not be doing these flights for free nor will they be hiring 15 people to do the work unless they are hell bent on spending themselves out of existence in their first year here. Which begs the question: what is really going on? And since when is it OK to spy on Dayton citizens without a warrant or any clear evidence – or even reasonable suspicion – of wrongdoing? This is taking the Surveillance State just one step closer to becoming a loathsome reality.

Who is responsible? Why is our City Commission even considering this? What is the real story here? When the DDN ran this story last week, they included a link to a PSS site that shows the types of images they get from two miles up. At best, they are inconclusive; at worst, 100 percent useless. This seems more like a private “deal” worked out privately between commission members and the PSS folks when the rest of us weren’t looking, perhaps to help occupy Tech Town or enhance our claim as a pioneer in the technology field.

Regardless of how well the reason is dressed up, this is just plain wrong, wrong, wrong – not only on a societal level, but on a moral one, as well. There is just no way to justify further intrusion into the private lives of Americans. The intrusion has already gone too far in the form of traffic cameras that basically criminalize non-criminals in order to raise money on the backs of those who can least afford it and creating ill, rather than good, will among citizens.

If this surveillance is permitted, it would be impossible to have “laws in place to protect privacy and civil liberties.” Surveillance squashes our civil liberties simply by existing. Aerial surveillance capabilities will not only allow, but actually authorize government entities to sidestep privacy by monitoring our movements. Have we really come to this? Are we passive and apathetic enough to allow the claptrap of “security” to ring the death knell on freedom?   Whether by aircraft or unmanned drones, the last thing we need is government turning us into its ready prey. This should send a shiver down your spine. Call the Dayton City Commission. Speak out!

Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at MarianneStanley@DaytonCityPaper.com.


Debate Right: Close your curtains or just smile and wave

 By Rob Scott

Whenever new technology is introduced, society has always feared losing the essential liberty of privacy. Privacy is one of the principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights guarantees every U.S. citizen the right to privacy against the government, with some limited exceptions.

The Founding Fathers were especially concerned with this principle due to the citizenry’s lack of privacy under the British rule during the U.S. colonial period. During that time, British authorities could enter your home without due process for any reason. The Founding Fathers believed, as documented in “The Federalist Papers” and the U.S. Constitution, that privacy was a natural right given to man by God.

As depicted in George Orwell’s book “1984,” many believe the U.S. government has a grand conspiracy to know everything about our lives and their goal is to control our lives. One of the first privacy concerns developed with the advent of the telephone. Many believed in the early 1900s that others, including the government, could listen in on private conversations. In some cases they were correct. Later, the same fears developed with the rise in cellular phone usage and then with the Internet, including social media.

Law enforcement does use technology to assist in the capture of those who commit crimes and to provide safety to those they are charged to protect. However, authorities can only invade our privacy with the authorization they receive from a judge issuing a warrant to do so. There are legal standards and the police authorities have the burden to show why they need to invade someone’s privacy. Many see this taking place on several popular TV shows such as “Law & Order” or any “CSI” show. There are thousands of cases in our justice system that deal with the issuance of warrants, the notion of probable cause and overall due process in order to provide the protection of our privacy.

Locally, the privacy issue has come to a head with the Dayton City Commission deciding on whether to hire a company that will provide aerial surveillance. The surveillance will be used as one of the many tools available to law enforcement authorities to fight crime in Dayton.

Many opponents see a surveillance program as an encroachment on their privacy. However, the same argument against surveillance was used against using radar guns to catch those who drive over the speed limit or the police use of breathalyzers to measure alcohol content in drivers’ blood. This does not include speed or red-light cameras.

Laws are already in place to protect our privacy in Dayton against intrusions from the government, but some obvious intrusions already exist. Currently under Ohio law, any police agency – or anyone else, for that matter – could use a helicopter to take pictures above your property and you outside on your property. Or those same individuals could track your movements by following you. Additionally, think of the satellite images that anyone can get off of Google Earth.

Also, anyone can stand in a public place, such as a sidewalk or street, and look at your house and in your windows. In some jurisdictions, the use of infrared is allowed to view someone’s home.

The same rules will and must apply to the surveillance program. If you are in a place that can be viewed, even with the assistance of technology, then this does not impinge on anyone’s liberty. However, using technology to peer inside someone’s home without a warrant is a clear violation of one’s privacy.

Ultimately, a surveillance program will give Dayton police a great tool to help fight crime and protect citizens. Regardless, we always must be vigilant to protect privacy and law enforcement will be required to follow the law. If you do not like the surveillance, then close your curtain or look up to smile and wave.

Rob Scott is a practicing attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is the Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party and the founder of the Dayton Tea Party. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or www.gemcitylaw.com.


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