The Agenda

Surveillance is a Two-Way Street

Via Alex Tabarrok, Gizmodo has a fascinating feature on how law enforcement officials are responding to the growing number of citizens who are using digital cameras to record police officers in the line of duty. So far, at least three states have banned recording on-duty police officers. This strikes me as an alarming and counterproductive trend. The vast majority of police officers behave responsibly and within the bounds of the law. But inevitably there are police officers who abuse their power, and the advent of cheap digital cameras gives citizens a valuable self-defense tool.  

I could be missing something here. It’s possible that ubiquitous surveillance of this kind could undermine good order, perhaps by enforcing an excessively rigid and rule-bound approach to policing. My suspicion is that this danger is outweighed by the danger of pervasive abuse that sows distrust between the police and the policed, a divide that is a particularly vexing problem in high-crime urban neighborhoods. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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