A Thought on Privacy

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in an absolutely awesome expression of governmental hubris, says that New Yorkers should just “get used to” the city’s rapidly proliferating surveillance cameras.

You wait, in five years, the technology is getting better, they’ll be cameras everyplace…whether you like it or not[.]

Amazingly, Federal Judge Richard Posner agrees.

Obviously, surveillance cameras didn’t prevent the Boston Marathon attacks.  But they may well have prevented further attacks planned by the bombers, including whatever destruction they may have attempted to cause in New York City.  Moreover, the criticism ignores deterrence.  By increasing the likelihood that terrorists or other criminals will be apprehended, surveillance cameras increase the expected cost of punishment.  That will not deter all attacks, but it will deter many.

Surveillance cameras also can be expected to increase the cost—and difficulty—of maintaining individual freedoms in the face of a constantly snooping government.  But surveillance cameras are of a piece with the lockdown imposed on Boston during the recent manhunt.

Ben Franklin was right.  Posner and Bloomberg are wrong.  But the latter plainly are speaking from the perspective of government and not from the perspective of government’s employers.

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