Police Use of Public Overt Surveillance Technology
Johnston, Rachel M.
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The use of surveillance technology in the public arena by law enforcement agencies has become widespread in the United States (U.S.). Despite the proliferation of Public Overt Surveillance Technology (POST) programs, little is known about public attitudes toward POST and how police develop and implement POST programs. An analysis of public attitudes toward police surveillance and an in-depth examination of police uses of POST and resulting data in the U.S. were completed using several methods. Regression analysis was used to analyze responses to two surveys about police surveillance. Descriptive and exploratory methods were used to document and understand the inception, development, and implementation of POST programs in one case study city in the U.S. as well as other large U.S. police agencies. Media reports and case law on privacy were reviewed to further develop an understanding of POST in the U.S. Public attitudes toward surveillance were overall positive among survey respondents, but financial and social costs associated with increased public surveillance are complex and likely not well understood. The case study revealed that the uses of POST and resulting data are small compared to the amount of data being collected and police activities overall, raising questions about benefits relative to costs. Similarities among law enforcement surveillance programs exist but the local context and culture are important in the development and implementation of surveillance programs. Law enforcement agencies that engage in public surveillance programs do not always include the communities that they serve in POST planning and on-going operations. Despite what appears to be wide acceptance of police use of POST, media outlets have largely ignored the potential negative impacts of increased government surveillance on privacy. Media accounts may contribute to widespread acceptance of police surveillance and fear of crime. Fourth Amendment case law has been considered by police in design and training but POST programs are largely unregulated by authorities outside the police department. Both police and community can benefit from transparency in POST programs and open dialogue about intended goals, appropriate uses and boundaries.