With the introduction of Flock Safety’s mass surveillance cameras in communities around Lewis County, I have concerns and questions about how these systems potentially infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens. While I acknowledge and appreciate the intentions of local police departments in using any tools at their disposal to keep our streets safe, we must tread carefully to ensure that we don’t compromise our fundamental freedoms in the process.
Benjamin Franklin wisely said, "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." We are reminded that while safety is important, we should never sacrifice liberty in its pursuit.
Flock Safety’s system, with its ability to monitor vast areas with high-resolution cameras and advanced analytics, challenges our Fourth Amendment rights, which protect against unreasonable searches. The system works by deploying a network of cameras to monitor public spaces continuously. These cameras capture and analyze movements and activities in real-time. According to Flock Safety’s website, law enforcement can use Flock to “utilize LPR (License Plate Recognition), gunshot detection, video and real-time intelligence to combat crime and drive positive outcomes in your community.” While introduced to local government entities as merely collecting license plate data over 30-day intervals, according to The Chronicle’s reporting on June 28, “The system is not only able to determine the license plate and state from analyzing the image, but it can also determine make, model and non-standard features to help with a database search.”
These statements lead me to question, what exactly are the non-standard features?
While license plate readers have been around for some time, Flock is the first of its kind to create a nationwide mass surveillance system where the data gathered is run against state watch lists, FBI databases, the National Crime Information Center, etc. Do the citizens of Lewis County want to be part of a nationwide database? The implications related to this type of system are monumental.
It is imperative that we weigh any conceived benefits against the constitutional and civil liberty concerns that they pose. I commend law enforcement for their vigilance in safeguarding our communities. They have been put in the extraordinarily difficult position of keeping people safe while our state government has repeatedly tied their hands behind their backs, making it difficult to keep wrongdoers off our streets. While I understand their stance, the use of these systems requires some hard questions be asked as well as open community debate. I am disappointed in how quickly local officials moved to adopt these systems without appearing to fully understand the scope of the technology, or providing any type of citizens' oversight committees or strict regulations.
In closing, I am reminded of George Orwell’s “1984.” Orwell’s story warned us about the dangers of totalitarian surveillance to create a compliant populace. These levels of surveillance raise serious concerns about privacy, individual autonomy and potentials for abuse. We would do well to remember Orwell’s cautionary tale and the warnings of our forefathers to ensure our society remains free and just.