Life in the era of cameras, cameras everywhere

There was an impassioned plea from a student in the DC area published in the Washington Post this week which caught my attention. Natalie De Vincenzi notes a number of tales of horror coming from Metro riders – young women in particular – who have experienced assaults of various types while riding the mass transit system, including one recent rape which took place on an otherwise empty subway car. There’s one relatively simple and not terribly expensive solution which could improve the situation in Natalie’s opinion and it’s cameras in all of the Metro cars.

Unfortunately, I have been harassed on Metro by a group of teenagers who threw objects at me. One recent day, I was listening to music when panic set in because I noticed I was the only person in my train car. Remembering that only a few weeks prior a woman alone in a Metro car allegedly was held at knifepoint and raped, I feared the same fate. At every stop, I panicked: fearful of who could get on, who I could be locked inside with until we reached the next stop, and God forbid the possibility of holding momentarily in a dark tunnel…

It comes down to this: We need security cameras on all Metro cars. The cameras in the Metro stations can do only so much. Cameras in the cars could prevent some horrific actions and give riders such as me peace of mind. I need to know that if, God forbid, something did happen, video evidence would help put the criminal in jail.

If Metro had cameras, the system could hold accountable the teenagers who threw objects at me on the train. And women who fear unwanted encounters would have video proof if anything happened. At least on Metro, there would be no “alleged” after an assault.

Why this doesn’t seem like common sense to everyone is a mystery to me, but each time a discussion along these lines pops up the Libertarians tend to fly into a rage. Cameras? Why should anyone be able to record and potentially track my movements? AM I BEING DETAINED?

The cops can’t be everywhere at once and the crime rates in the DC area attest to that. Cameras may not be capable of stopping a crime, but they will make many criminals think twice if they know that their actions are being live streamed. But why should we limit the discussion to just the Metro? (There are already cameras operating at all of the transit stations, by the way, and the republic hasn’t collapsed yet.) Given the current state of technology there’s no reason that cities and towns can’t have a lot more cameras covering public streets and any areas where pedestrians may run into trouble. The fact remains that your expectation of privacy falls to darned near zero once you leave your home and step out into the public square. You’re already filmed by a variety of cameras owned by private businesses and that footage is available to the police with a warrant. What we really need is to cut out the middle man and get something closer to full coverage.

There’s an old saying about locks being intended to keep honest people honest rather than stopping criminals and there’s a similar truth associated with cameras. Some crime will be deterred when potential criminals know they are being recorded and the police will have a much easier time bringing lawbreakers to justice with video footage available to show a jury. So yes, we should be onboard with Natalie’s idea, but don’t stop at the Metro. We’ll never be able to afford all of the police we could actually use to keep Americans safe, but some electronic hall monitors could go a long way toward filling the gaps.