In the wake of 9/11, CCTV and other video surveillance systems have proliferated across the USA. In addition to commercially based CCTV systems, in the last number of years CCTV has been introduced by numerous city and community councils to monitor activity on public streets and on public transportation.
As the use of CCTV technology has expanded and the sophistication of such systems has improved dramatically, this has triggered an ongoing debate about security versus privacy. Although the necessity of CCTV use in public areas is now well established, there is nonetheless concern within the public arena with regards to the implications of CCTV use on an individual’s personal privacy and their anonymity. Active opponents of CCTV have argued that such systems significantly alter the relationship between the individual and the state, and that the use of surveillance in public places affects the free speech and activity of citizens.
However, following the Boston Marathon Bombings which occurred on April 15th this year, claiming the lives of three people and injuring 282, no one can dispute the effective and important role played by CCTV technology. Like many other major U.S. cities, Boston has a network of CCTV cameras in place. Just three days after the two bombs exploded by the Boston Marathon finish line, using three security cameras in different locations in downtown Boston, the FBI were able to identify and track brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev's movements from the vast crowd of spectators at the event that day.
As documented in the Criminal Complaint filed against suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev CCTV footage allowed the authorities to track brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev's movements as they first approached the marathon's finishing line, to their activities before the explosions went off and their reactions thereafter. In this case CCTV, in combination with still photographs and public smartphone videos, was paramount to the identification of the Tsarnaev brothers.
CCTV has proven to be a valuable tool in crime detection and has been used effectively in a number of high profile cases over the past few decades. CCTV footage was critical in the identification and arrest of Jill Meagher's killer in Melbourne earlier this year, and was crucial in identifying the terrorists responsible for the London bombings in 2005. Day-to-day, CCTV has been used effectively worldwide to target traffic offenders, to identify car thieves and capture those involved in disorderly behaviour on the streets.
The successful role CCTV cameras played in the Boston Marathon bombings will undoubtedly contribute to CCTV and video surveillance becoming more and more accepted into the future. Those who were in the past concerned about the privacy issues surrounding CCTV, may now look more closely at the balance of giving up a little of their personal anonymity versus identifying and capturing dangerous criminals, and many more may now come out in favour of CCTV than traditionally have in the past. Furthermore, as CCTV technologies develop further they may reach a point where they will be able to proactively identify dangerous criminals at certain areas using CCTV cameras and avoid potentially dangerous circumstances from occurring before they take place, thereby increasing public safety.
As it stands today, CCTV has proven to increase crime detection rates and provide evidence invaluable to the process of investigation and prosecution, and these factors should not be overlooked in weighing up the balance between increased security and safety and the preservation personal privacy.