Police Cameras in Your Home

This is so nutty that I wasn’t even going to blog it. But too many of you are e-mailing the article to me.

Houston’s police chief on Wednesday proposed placing surveillance cameras in apartment complexes, downtown streets, shopping malls and even private homes to fight crime during a shortage of police officers.

“I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?” Chief Harold Hurtt told reporters Wednesday at a regular briefing.

One of the problems we have in the privacy community is that we don’t have a crisp answer to that question. Any suggestions?

Posted on February 23, 2006 at 1:12 PM254 Comments


Markus February 23, 2006 1:35 PM

I actually do have an answer for that, and it’s “what’s not ‘wrong’ today, might be considered ‘wrong’ tomorrow, and if that happens, they might have me doing it on tape”.

It might not be as powerful as “if you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to fear”, but it’s a thing I think about alot when I hear about people wanting to put the entire world under surveilance.

It’s the old “why vs. why not” debate I suppose.

Michael February 23, 2006 1:38 PM

Well, if someone says this, ask one simple question in return:
Are you 100% sure that it is impossible that some day a fascist regime may control your country and have access to the data?

Roy February 23, 2006 1:41 PM

Given the steady erosion of privacy rights over the last few (?) years, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. And if you think it’s fun now, wait until the neocon-stacked SCOTUS overturns Roe v. Wade. Recall that Roe was decided on the implied right to privacy suggested by the First and Fourth Amendments (but not specifically enumerated anywhere in the Constitution). Overturning that decision is tantamount to an official declaration that we have no right to privacy.

mpd February 23, 2006 1:42 PM

In response to cameras in the home, the response is a pretty simple, “Read the 4th amendment.”

For the “if you’re not doing anything wrong…” stuff, I simply ask the person how often they indulge in self-gratification. When they refuse to tell me, I say, “why won’t you tell me? There’s nothing wrong with it.” If they say they just have sex with their spouse, I say, “OK, tell me ALL about it.”

swmcd February 23, 2006 1:43 PM

This doesn’t directly address the question, but it might help frame it:

Properly defined, privacy is the subjective condition people experience when they have power to control information about themselves.
—The CATO Institute

Eric K. February 23, 2006 1:44 PM

“if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

That’s the same response used by everyone who wants to take away essential freedoms for the sake of temporary security.

I may not be doing anything wrong, but who protects me from abuse of the system?

Does the police department exclusively hire saints, or is there a chance that the concept of a ‘dirty cop’ isn’t just a hollywood invention?

Tom O'B February 23, 2006 1:44 PM

short answer:
Office of Internal Affairs .
Why it exists and how much damage is done before an IA investigation kicks in is the long answer.

Alan February 23, 2006 1:45 PM

There are plenty of things that are legal that people don’t want to disclose about themselves. This is the whole reason you Americans have the fourth amendment. The whole proposal is so assinine it should be grounds to have him fired.

travelgirl February 23, 2006 1:45 PM

my answer would be simple:

if the houston police chief is willing to have public, on-web cameras, in his home, in his bathroom, in his bedroom, 24×7, well, then, it’s good enough for me.

if he’s not doing something wrong, he has nothing to fear…

MikeI February 23, 2006 1:46 PM

My response to the question is that we may differ in our interpretations of “doing something wrong” and I’d rather not defer to your interpretation in my home.

McGavin February 23, 2006 1:47 PM

“I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

Response to the Chief:

I’m not worried about ME doing something wrong, I’m worried about YOU doing something wrong.

Walter February 23, 2006 1:47 PM

Traditionally, my answer to the related question of “Why should I use encryption? What have I got to hide?” has been “Your credit card number”.

Mike Sherwood February 23, 2006 1:48 PM

The most compelling way to generate support for this program would be to put cameras in the homes of all government employees and representatives and make the cameras web accessible. After a reasonable period of time, say 10 years, the benefits of this program could be evaluated for expansion into the public sector.

jm February 23, 2006 1:48 PM

@Michael: any American will reply “yes” and move on.

Besides… the data is not only a problem if a fascist gets it.

Bruce nailed it completely, the problem IS that we don’t have a good answer besides “I feel a level of discomfort”. It’s very simple: The problem doesn’t exist if all people in law-enforcement are trustworthy and THEY’RE NOT!

Put surveillance in peoples’ homes and there will be a lot of new amateur porn on the internet, but how do we prove it and how do we make Jow Sixpack aware of the problem? Especially when a town of 200 people in Wyoming is afraid that Terrorists plot to blow up their Walmart with a nuclear bomb?

In a discussion a friend who belongs to the “let them take my fingerprints, I don’t plan to do anything wrong”-crowd asked me a good question: “If we don’t trust the Police, who do we turn to?”. This is a “stupid question”, of course, but it’s what the general population feels. That’s why Gonzales can claim that the terrorists are smiling when he discusses his boss’ spectacular failure of a spying program.

My answer is: we need a website that, in great detail, aggregates and documents all privacy related f*ck ups of our government.

Homeland Stupidity February 23, 2006 1:58 PM

I’m working on it.

As for the police, we can’t rely on them, even when they’ve done nothing wrong! So says the Supreme Court. They have no obligation to respond to a 911 call, for instance. (I would leave URLs, but they keep getting stripped out…)

Gee February 23, 2006 1:58 PM

Well, apparently, “privacy” isn’t something that stumps any of these folks since that concept has somehow been redefined as unpatriotic, or even criminal and/or terrorist inspired. It’s an odd state of affairs when one has to actually defend what for most human history people considered the norm of human existence….

Anyway, I don’t have a ready soundbite type solution for the “if you’re not doing anything wrong” comment, but I would suggest that in order to be effective any such soundbite is probably going to have to have several qualities:

  1. It must villify. The “if you’re not doing anything wrong” comment villifies the public. Any response must go a step further and villify the person who suggests that everyone should be watched.
  2. It should be socially embarrassing. The “if you’re not doing anything wrong” comment challenges the moral and personal integrity of those who would disagree. A soundbite response must attack the character of the person making the comment.
  3. It must be possible to address the soundbite directly at an individual making the “if you’re not doing anything wrong” comment, even if that person isn’t named in the soundbite itself. That person’s character must be the implied target of the soundbite.

Something along the lines of the following might wind up working:

“People who propose video surveillance are clandestine perverts who get their jollies spying on people going about their business.”

A video spying fetish needs to be fully blamed for this trend. If those who propose video surveillance are depicted as sexual deviants they will be less likely to suggest it as a policy.

Overall, my point here is that the relative merits and demerits of such a system are not going to be the deciding factor in whether they are employed or not. The process itself and those who propose it must be attacked personally. As unpleasant as this is for those of us who prefer logical or reasonable solutions to these kinds of policy issues the public will decide the issue on an emotional level, so it must be addressed that way.

Andre LePlume February 23, 2006 2:00 PM

Houston isn’t alone in this. Chicago is flirting with something similar.

As for how to argue against it, why bother? If you have to make an argument (to a Texan!) that “freedom is good”, then you might as well save your breath.

Crusty February 23, 2006 2:03 PM

Here’s your crisp answer: “Why should I worry? I value Freedom, that’s why.” The entire history of American constitutional law is the result of worrying about what Big Brother was doing.”

A law enforcement officer’s job is easier to the extent to which those whom he polices have less freedom. There would be nearly zero crime if everyone were locked in his own jail cell. More freedom(s) means more potential for crime. Citizens of a relatively free country enjoy more, instead of less, freedom, and so make this tradeoff.

There are hundreds of ways the job of a law enforcement official could be made easier, more efficient, and less dangerous. Most of those ways require a reduction in the freedom of those within the officer’s jurisdiction. The same answer can be crisply given to any of dozens of other questions, such as:

1.) If you’re not doing anything wrong, then why worry about a pat-down or frisk of your body whenever a law officer deems necessary?

2.) If you’re not doing anything wrong, then why worry about a search of your home or car whenever a law officer deems necessary?

3.) If you’re not doing anything wrong, then why worry about a back-door key for law enforcement to unlock encrypted files on your computer whenever a law officer deems necessary?

4.) If you’re not doing anything wrong, then why worry about a search of your bank, medical, school, job, and political party affiliation records, whenever a law officer deems necessary?

5.) If you’re not doing anything wrong, then why worry about a mandatory government GPS locator device in your cell phone, wristwatch, and/or car for safety purposes, whenever a law officer deems necessary?

Security and safety are often at odds with freedom. The prize goes to the person clever enough to preserve the most of the good parts of both ends of the spectrum as possible, while preventing the bad parts from seducing us with quick and easy so-called ‘solutions.’

Thomas Sprinkmeier February 23, 2006 2:05 PM

Why not just admit that sometimes wo do something wrong, or have something to hide, and we don’t want everyone to know about it all the time?

What’s worse for society, the occasional misappropriation of office stationary or out of tune ABBA rendition in the privacy of our homes, or no privacy?

Armin February 23, 2006 2:11 PM

I find another aspect interesting:

“Houston’s police chief on Wednesday proposed placing surveillance cameras in apartment complexes, downtown streets, shopping malls and even private homes to fight crime during a shortage of police officers”

“The City Council is considering a public safety tax to pay for more officers.”

OK, so those cameras are supposed to replace police officers? And who is going to watch all the images from those cameras? Let alone react to anything untoward or criminal seen through those cameras? Don’t you need lots of camera operators to watch all this footage, people you might better use as police officers out on the beat?

Lou the troll February 23, 2006 2:12 PM

Being ridiculus here, but let’s turn this one 180 degrees around… Clearly the problem is our current crime laws. Let’s wipe the legal slate clean and then we wouldn’t need police at all, much less their cameras.

On a more serious note, I know law enforcement is big business and all, but have we really come down to needing constant monitoring in our society? This idea is so repugnantly repulsive that it really makes me wonder where we are heading as a society. I guess freedom isn’t something we value anymore… sigh. I would say that if you don’t have an unpleasant visceral reaction when you hear of this camera idea, well, I’m not sure what I’d say about but I sincerely doubt it would be very nice.

Lou the troll

gawp February 23, 2006 2:13 PM

How about: “Great, so you won’t mind publishing your last seven years of tax returns online. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve nothing to worry about.”

arl February 23, 2006 2:15 PM

Ask him how he feels about people following police around and video taping arrests.

Ask him why he has drapes in his bedroom.

amoore February 23, 2006 2:18 PM

I have two responses to that question:
1) I am always doing something wrong because of the explosion of legislation. I don’t want all of those laws enforced, especially not arbitrarily. For instance, I sped to work today by a few miles/hour; sometimes I throw my flashlight batteries in the trash instead of taking them to the community drop-off center; and with all of the new laws just passed today, I have no idea what else I’ve done wrong. Please don’t enforce every law on every person all of the time.
2) I do really embarrassing things that I don’t want people looking at. I don’t want the police or anyone else to watch me pick my nose or kiss my girlfriend in the apartment complex hallway. I certainly don’t want them to record it.

Chris February 23, 2006 2:20 PM

Why does the country need to devolve into a fascist regime until there is a problem. The newspapers are full of stories every day of one politician/policeman/city official that have used their position of power to either conduct illegal activites or, at the very least, enrich themselves.

Unless Houston, or any other municipality, can guarantee that their employees are angels I see a lot of problems with allowing them visibility into everything that we do. It enables profiteering and blackmail by the dregs of society.

Hritz February 23, 2006 2:21 PM

The basic problem is that quips like this attempt to shift the burden of proof from the watcher to the watched. Although the constitution doesn’t call out an explicit right to privacy, it is embodied in the bill of rights. The crisp response is “Why can’t you do your job without creating a repressive police state?”

will February 23, 2006 2:29 PM

Q: If you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?

A: If it’s not wrong, it’s none of your business. Stop trying to pry into the private lives of innocent people.


A: If you’re not a peeping tom, why would you object to an innocent person closing the curtains?

MSB February 23, 2006 2:31 PM


“The basic problem is that quips like this attempt to shift the burden of proof from the watcher to the watched.”

I was going to point this out, but you beat me to the punch.

The correct answer to the question is: “I don’t owe you an answer.”

roy February 23, 2006 2:35 PM

Put their claim to the test.

Hold their plans aside until our testing is completed and evaluated to our satisfaction.

Make it completely legal for everyone and anyone to use cameras on the police, video with audio, using any part of the optical spectrum, without restriction as to who, what, where, when, why, or how.

Also make resistance and obstruction by the police an automatic 30-to-life prison sentence for the first offense, no exceptions.

And specifically empower the citizens to exercise federal, state, and local authority over all police officers, so that we can arrest them ourselves, jail them, and send them to prison.

Then we citizens will police the police for a spell, putting them under 24-hour scrutiny, on and off the job, making citizens arrests every time we see a public offense.


The police would never let it get that far. They all know that they’re lying. Call their bluff and they will back down every time.

Incidentally, if we citizens indeed have no right to privacy, then neither does our government: we are free to spy on them all we want and use what we learn any way we choose.


If the police are not doing anything wrong, why can’t we citizens force them to divulge everything we want anytime we want? Eh? What are they hiding?


At the very least, the public should have Internet access to the cameras trained on the people monitoring the cameras, so that we can see what they’re doing in there.

rich February 23, 2006 2:38 PM

I thought the London Police Commissioner, Ian Blair, was the biggest dimwit in law enforcement. Looks like he has some competition at last!

Jeremy H February 23, 2006 2:39 PM

if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?

Because of the presumption of innocence until proof of guilt. It is assumed that I am not doing anything wrong. I don’t need a camera to verify this to you.

Jeremy H February 23, 2006 2:43 PM

if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?

Because the cameras will be abused.

Either to peep, to spy on political enimies (or your ex-wife), to gather information for blackmail, or to be sold to private companies.

Max Erickson February 23, 2006 2:48 PM

Pointing at the constitution is not the answer. It exists to limit the powers of the government, not to specify the rights of the people(or it should anyway). The right to privacy is more fundamental than the constitution. It is sacrosanct. A society that denies its citizens privacy is not a free society. Nothing new to that, just trying to establish the appropriate framing.

A possible quip: I’m not doing anything wrong. There is nothing for you to see. Why do you want to watch me?

Swiss Connection February 23, 2006 2:49 PM


Perhaps your original intention to not blog this one would have been the wiser choice.

pink February 23, 2006 2:57 PM

What is it about human nature that makes it so easy to slide into a facist & violent direction?
Saw Pink Floyd’s The Wall movie last night (first time in ~20 yrs). I can tell you that there are some powerful messages that resonate even today. Blind unquestioning faith coupled with a thirst for power is scary – whether it’s terrorists or those that would sacrifice our freedoms for security.
(homework assignment: go rent/buy the DVD, and view it with a good sound system. Does it mean anything different to you 20 years later?)

RSaunders February 23, 2006 2:58 PM

I suggest they start with cameras in the TSA inspection area of the Houston airports. Provided he’s still the police chief after that, ask him what he thinks of the life-like Harold Hurtt masks now being sold at area costume shops. Nobody really thinks Richard Nixon robbed those banks, but there is quite a bit of surveillance footage showing him. He just thinks it is a good idea because current criminal behavior would be captured by it. Once deployed, the agile criminal would simply change to behavior that the cameras would not be effective at capturing.

It’s dumb, and unconstitutional. Perhaps two strikes should do it for this one.

Christian February 23, 2006 3:00 PM

The things the government is doing these days concerning privacy and security is not only ludacris but rather a questionably unfair invasive concern.

I could see the cameras on streets and such in high crime-low-income areas, to impose a pressence where drug dealers and criminals operate out in the open.

But to invade on peoples private lives is just not neccesary.

I know i live in an area of comfort, a friendly quiet neighborhood, where nobody is doing anything wrong… Except the quiet old man down the block who sits outside on his porch smoking cubans everyday.

But i live here for a reason, a sense of security, and humbleness, and not having to deal with things of this nature.

I dont know, it just seems to me everyday its something else with the government.

I want my country to be safe, but there are such things as limitations.

Jason February 23, 2006 3:06 PM

My explanation usually goes through the following list, and stops when the person gets it:

1) Joe McCarthy (just because it isn’t ‘wrong’ now doesn’t mean it won’t be ‘wrong’ in the future)
2) Credit card info is private
3) Do you intend to announce to the world when you have hemmoroids or ED? Why not?
4) Stalking (both by private citizens, and the police. Yes, I have examples for both)
5) Other forms of abuse of power.
6) Even if you have no sense of ethics, it’s logistically impossible anyway.

Westbubble Parent February 23, 2006 3:08 PM


I live in one of those “safe” communities, too.

Safety is an illusion.

Sure, we like to think nothing “bad” can ever happen here, but then you see the myspaces.com profiles of the 13 yr old kids that live in the neighborhood.

How do you propose we protect these kids when their parents are clueless?

Brad C. February 23, 2006 3:16 PM

@Christian: You do know the word is “ludicrous”, right? “Ludacris” is the phonetic bastardization of the word used as an alias by rap star Christopher Bridges.

Christian February 23, 2006 3:23 PM


I know our “safe” communites cannot actually be guaranteed that way, just portrayed.

All these internet & Myspace episodes are another thing, when a solution is not really disposable at your fingertips, there are things that can be done.

Parents need to learn about the Internet, and protecting their children from it.

Myspace, AOl, Chat rooms, Message Forums, are all vulnderable areas for children. If children are not old enough to know about meeting and giving out personal information to strangers on the internet, than they should be denied access to these outlets.

Dave February 23, 2006 3:24 PM

From the article:

Such cameras are costly, Houston Mayor Bill White said, “but on the other hand we spend an awful lot for patrol presence.” He called the chief’s proposal a “brainstorm” rather than a decision.

I’m not sure “brainstorm” is the word I would have chosen.

Eric Blair February 23, 2006 3:31 PM

“What law says cops can spy on me if I’m doing nothing wrong ? ”

The 4th Amendment indeed strictly prohibits such general spying & surveillance. The 4th is fundamental American ‘law’ … not a suggestion.

When cops don’t know or obey basic American laws — that’s a huge problem.

We got a huge problem!

[“Only in a police state is the job of a policeman easy”]
{– George Orwell}

Anonymous February 23, 2006 3:35 PM

Just shift the context of the question.

Why do you object having every criminal sentenced to life? If you do nothing wrong you shouldn’t object.

Why do you object giving police the right to beat on criminals in the police station? If you do nothing wrong you shouldn’t object.

Why can’t the government torture criminals? If you do nothing wrong you shouldn’t object.

The “if you do nothing wrong you shouldn’t object” is the main error. It is no excuse for police to do something wrong. If we accept otherwise, then where do we draw the line? Why would the argument apply to video cameras and not to other things?

nedu February 23, 2006 3:37 PM

Being let alone is essential to individual human dignity. Every time you destroy a little piece of a person’s privacy, you deny them a corresponding piece of their humanity. And as you treat others like brute animals, so too do you become brutish and coarse.

Iron Ox February 23, 2006 3:43 PM

The Ming dynasty Chinese novel “The Marshes of Mt. Liang” concerns life in a time when corrupt government officials make everyone’s lives miserable. The often quote a saying of the time, “Don’t fear the Law, fear the man who wields it.” Seems appropriate here.

Legatus February 23, 2006 3:47 PM

My answer has nothing to do with privacy, but property. On public property put the cameras up, but on my property, only I have the right to decide when, where, and if a camera goes in, and who gets to see what it taped. If the police can put cameras wherever they want, then we have no property rights. Without property rights, there is no freedom.

Carl February 23, 2006 3:53 PM

I figured this one out a while back:

If I’m not doing anything wrong, then they have no reason to watch me.

I find this to be a nice, easy to understand translation of the “unreasonable search” and “probable cause” clauses of the Fourth Amendment.

Fred February 23, 2006 4:01 PM

Jane Consumer:
“I’m not afraid, I have nothing to hide”.
Joe Citizen:
“I’m not willing. I have nothing to prove”.

k February 23, 2006 4:11 PM

“The entire history of American constitutional law ”

That’s the problem , it’s history.

How many more years before the current ‘state of affairs’ becomes normal, or the dreamed of luxuries of the past.

Not sure it’ll even take that long, if you look at Russian and Chinese history in the past 60 years.

Ari Heikkinen February 23, 2006 4:13 PM

Suggest that if there’s nothing wrong with it then surely there wouldn’t be anything wrong with you setting up a cam in their apartment, perhaps in their bedroom and their bathroom. Surely, there wouldn’t be any objections on selling that as a webcast on your website either. After all, they have nothing to hide, right?

If it’s government, demand that program be tested first on government employee’s homes (starting with the one considering it) and see how it works there. Ofcourse anything from government should be public, so there should be a live video feed on a government website for citizens to view.

You see, it’s no problem for anyone for whom it’s an externality.

GM February 23, 2006 4:17 PM

“If you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

Because someone could move the goalposts later.

In fact, they often do.

Pat Z February 23, 2006 4:18 PM

Wasn’t it in one of Bruce’s books where he said something along the lines of, “I’ve got nothing to hide when I’m in the washroom, but I still don’t want someone watching me.” In response to the assertion that if you’ve done nothing wrong you should have nothing to hide.

Chris February 23, 2006 4:20 PM

One has also to remember that the ability to ‘do something wrong’ is exactly what we need to protect.

Why, you ask? A very simple example is prohibition. Consumption of alcohol was made illegal, and yet people still did it. And eventually it was accepted that the law wasn’t appropriate and it was removed.

Another example is gay rights. Not very long ago, having homosexual sex was illegal almost everywhere. And yet people still did it, and slowly society and the law is changing to accept it and realise that it’s illegality was inappropriate in the first place.

In a total surveillance society, these things would never have changed. So one response is that unless are we convinced that the current laws are both totally just and will always be totally just, then yes – we may have something to hide.

But it’s very hard to capture that concept in a single sound bite…

Lyger February 23, 2006 4:24 PM

“I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

Answer: Because to KNOW that I’m not doing anything wrong, I must have the ENTIRE body of the law committed to memory.

Chief Hurtt’s statement is based on the widely held fallacy that everyone knows the law well enough that ANY transgression MUST be based on intentional misbehavior. But where there is strict criminal liability, which no longer requires intent as an element of criminality (ignorance of the law is no excuse), I can be held liable for breaking a law that I’ve never heard of. And don’t forget that as soon as I travel from one jurisdiction to another, I need to have all of THOSE laws committed to memory as well.

The snappy answer is to heft the legal codes of the U.S., the state, the county and the municipality onto the table, and say “Because I’d have to commit all of these to memory.”

But the real reason is one of trust. Actually, given a corrupt law-enforcement organization, having the tapes would serve as a hedge against false charges. But we all know that while the police would love to have the tapes themselves, they’d be less likely to make them available to the public in real time (at least the person who was being watched). Not to mention the fact that it’s currently impossible to do so.

Nato Welch February 23, 2006 4:26 PM

I have an excellent snappy response to government authoritarians:

“You first”.

If the cops want to see in my house, I want to see into theirs. It’s pretty simple. While we’re at it, they can put cams on all their offices, in all their patrol cars, on all their badges, and then turn over all the footage to public scrutiny.

The chief wants greater surveillance of the public. We happen to want greater surveillance //by// the public. While I ultimately disagree that we should be forced to trade one for the other, this is a deal that I think could be worthwhile.

Turn the argument around. They’ll shut up about it real quick.

Actually, I think the private homes bit is really the only part that stepped over the line. If the Chief said that, he was probably not thinking, and will get a tongue lashing that will get him back to towing the line short of private home surveillance.

assert reject February 23, 2006 4:30 PM

How about a collective, yes I am doing something wrong, and that’s why your scheme won’t work?

Ari Heikkinen February 23, 2006 4:33 PM

In fact, that might actually be a good idea. When someone from government wants greater surveillance on the public, just turn it around saying we as citizens want more oversight on the government and that cameras would actually be great for that. Live camera feeds from police stations and government offices would actually be a good start!

Anonymous February 23, 2006 4:40 PM

What’s considered morally wrong, or socially wrong, is not necessarily legally wrong.

What if I were gay and watched gay porn, but have not come out ’cause I’m not ready to, or I’d be embarassed and can’t deal with the social aspect yet.

What if I had $10 thousand dollars, all legal, and I wanted to keep it secret, to myself. Being video taped means it’s no longer just me that knows, but me and whomever can view the monitor now knows.

There’s nothing in the law that states I can’t do things that are embarassing in my own home. There is nothing physically stopping someone from abusing it for the sake of doing something devious.

Schade February 23, 2006 4:43 PM

I just say. “because those in power will most likely do something wrong”
“throught history government will abuse any trust given it”
“prove to me you won’t do something wrong with it”
“what is wrong?”
“are my sex tapes going to be auctioned off on E-Bay?”
“who watches the watchers?”

steve s February 23, 2006 4:47 PM

“OK. Let me see your credit card receipts, your medical records, and let me search your bedroom. Now.”

Ari Heikkinen February 23, 2006 4:50 PM

Ok, I actually looked at that article:

Andy Teas with the Houston Apartment Association said that although some would consider cameras an invasion of privacy, “I think a lot of people would appreciate the thought of extra eyes looking out for them.”

You sure it’s not a joke? Well, atleast it’s generating some discussion about it.. 🙂

Mike February 23, 2006 4:58 PM

“I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?” Chief Harold Hurtt told reporters Wednesday at a regular briefing.

My answer, “I’m worried about it because your desire, Mr. Hurtt, to spy on all your friends, neighbors and fellow human beings is something wrong.”

Kaitlyn H February 23, 2006 5:03 PM

The correct response is:

“The problem is that we will never agree on the definition of ‘wrong’. That is why privacy is important: it protects each of us from the other’s difference of opinion about right vs. wrong.

For example, many people would say that it is wrong for me to read Old Testament stories to my children, or to spank them, or to give them condoms. A camera in my home would cause me to have to deal with everyone else’s heartfelt opinions about correct parenting.

This is bigger than it sounds. People get harangued, excommunicated, even lynched over such differences of opinion. Privacy lets us safely differ from each other. Those differences, in the long run, evolve and compete to create a better society.”

CJ February 23, 2006 5:21 PM

I think there are two parts to this: yes, something that isn’t wrong now may be declared wrong retroactively sometime in the future; and yes, we can’t necessarily trust the watchers. But those issues could be argued away by someone insufficiently cynical. But even if new laws really truly wouldn’t be applied retroactively, and the watchers’ discretion could be relied upon, there is a deeper problem. This true problem, which is the one that is difficult to capture in a sound bite, is that just because I’m not breaking law doesn’t mean that I’m happy with someone watching me! There are lots of things (as mentioned above) that are personal and therefore private. The surveillance assumption is that privacy = coverup of illegal activity (or at least, potential coverup), which is clearly not true – there are many other reasons why someone might wish to keep something private.

Steven February 23, 2006 5:34 PM

I don’t do anything wrong or illegal at home and I still don’t want cameras in my house. I have sex with my wife and it doesn’t always happen in our bedroom with the door shut. I walk around in my boxers when I get ready in the morning. Why should I let the police watch that?

Isabeau February 23, 2006 5:36 PM

Do real-life cops hate their own Internal Affairs departments the way cops on TV do? Isn’t that a bit inconsistent with their passion for surveilling us?

Surely, if the police don’t want to be spied on, that means they think they’ve got something to hide. And if they do, why should we trust them?

Josh Rubin February 23, 2006 5:59 PM

I’m surprised no one has mentioned it yet, but there is a bounty for the first person who produces video of Houston’s police chief violating a law.

Visit http://www.hurttprize.org/ and join me in pledging money to increase the bounty.

Crusty February 23, 2006 6:13 PM

Each of the following responses can easily be countered by Sheriff Stuckey:

If I’m not doing anything wrong then why do you need to know?

If I’m not doing anything wrong, then they have no reason to watch me.

What law says cops can spy on me if I’m doing nothing wrong?

If [I am] not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?

If it’s not wrong, it’s none of your business.

To wit:

Stuckey: “We don’t know if you are or aren’t doing anything wrong until we watch you.”

You weaken an important argument by implying that the law enforcement official should be allowed to watch only those who are already doing something wrong, but disallowed from watching those who aren’t doing anything wrong.

The better response is that the law enforcement official should be prohibited from constantly surveilling ANY person, while that person is within a private residence or business, or on private land. In this way, you need not concede any constant surveillance of those who are, or are presumed to be, doing or about to do “something wrong.” You also avoid having to define “wrong”, since ‘constant surveillance’ is prohibited no matter what the surveilled activity, even if the activity is something that all of us could is wrong (fat chance of that!)

Finally, you needn’t make any exception for police emergencies, since emergencies by definition aren’t constant. Sporadic video surveillance of public areas could fall in line with the long-developed principle of probable cause: a policeman can search your (outside) body, your car, and even your home, if he has probable cause, subject to the restrictions of the Fourth Amendment.

It’s part of a policeman’s job to watch people in public areas. To require him to watch only those who are already doing something wrong, is silly. How could he know if a person is doing something wrong without first looking to see? Each of us has been looked at, perhaps even watched for a few seconds, by a policeman before, and we haven’t complained (much.) What’s wrong with that watching happening through a video camera, instead of directly through his eyes? We don’t seem to mind much being watched by videocamera at banks, department stores, and casinos. (Or do we?) There are, of course, benefits that accrue from this public, as opposed to private, watching by law enforcement officials. Your tax dollars pay the officer to (hopefully) be watching when you, a relative, or a friend, are about to be mugged from behind by an assailant. If a camera caught such an act, and the assailant could later be identified through videotape playback (which hopefully contributes to his arrest), would you disagree that a benefit would have accrued?

Notwithstanding such benefits, it is not a part of a policeman’s job to watch private citizens in private homes and/or businesses, or on private land. In the absence of an emergency, these private places should be free of uninvited eyes, even, or perhaps especially, the eyes of law enforcement officials.

assert reject February 23, 2006 6:22 PM

Crusty’s response is correct, but what is wrong with pervasive surveillance ability in public? Noone really knows, it’s never been possible before.

Because its never been possible before, existing laws, and law of precedent, have never considered it, and so don’t demarcate the limits and the appropriate responses.

Because its never been possible before, existing laws and penalties are framed on the basis of the fact that the police only ever catch a small percentage of law breakers.

If they are able to catch every law breaker every time, perhaps the law will only work if the penalties are correspondingly reduced.

Public outrage ensues whenever penalties are reduced, so this is unlikely to wash — even less likely than the increasing surveillance powers, which seem to pass easily.

So we are going to get increased surveillance without decreased penalties or ‘more appropriate’ responses such as social work, mandated wealth redistribution etc.

The law are not going to fix this for us, they are the problem, as one correspondent pointed out, what Tuttle or whatever his name is is doing is wrong and can’t be caught on film. We are even having trouble describing why what he is doing is wrong.

So it is for us to deal with. What is going to be done?

Crusty February 23, 2006 6:25 PM

…all of us could AGREE is wrong (fat chance of that!)…

I typo’d the typo correction!! 🙂

Precision Blogger February 23, 2006 6:29 PM

Apparently this police chief wants to watch me when I’m naked or making love. Or do these count as “something I’m doing wrong?”

The real problem: If this police deprtment is understaffed already, who’ll have time to watch all the videos (24 hours * number of rooms …).

  • Precision Blogger

Precision Blogger February 23, 2006 6:31 PM

One reader above suggested:
“The most compelling way to generate support for this program would be to put cameras in the homes of all government employees and representatives and make the cameras web accessible. After a reasonable period of time, say 10 years, the benefits of this program could be evaluated for expansion into the public sector.”

This is a bad idea. Collective Productivity will PLUNGE until we stop laughing…

billy vader February 23, 2006 6:48 PM

The biggest problem is that you cannot know if you are doing anything wrong. It is impossible for anyone to know even half of the laws they are subject to.

I don’t remember the exact source (it was some law journal article) or the exact quote (I read it months ago):

Considering the number of laws on the books, the claim that ignorance is no excuse is a sick joke.

Craig Marshall February 23, 2006 6:50 PM

With respect to surveillance, I think you could divide behaviour into three kinds:

  1. Unexceptional behaviour: the kind you might display in church or in a very public place
  2. Ordinary behaviour: altogether harmless but but a mixture of the unexceptional and those idiosyncratic things we all do like picking your nose, raiding the fridge, or kissing (or worse) your legitimate partner
  3. The exceptional and potentially illegal which might involve breaking into someone else’s apartment all sorts of other things besides.

Obviously 1 and 2 should not be the province of the Police, and 3 is very likely to be seen only very occasionally. There are all sorts of other issues (who is going to monitor all these data, what about things that happen outside the range of the camera and so on).

So my short answer is “why should you have pictures of me scratching my bum?”

logicnazi February 23, 2006 7:03 PM

I think the most important worry with privacy stuff is the differential loss of privacy. Most people are hypocritical and are quite willing to condemn things they do themselves. Sure, I might watch porn they say, but I’m a responsible adult and it needs to be illegal so innocent little children don’t get ahold of it. Or sure I smoke some weed, do a line of coke every once in awhile but I’m in control of myself but we need to make drug use illegal so people with less self-control don’t get addicted.

Now if we installed cameras in everyones homes and set up computers to watch them and look for violations (hypothetically not practically possible of course) this wouldn’t be such a big deal. People wouldn’t make these behaviors illegal so they don’t go to jail. However, in practice it is only the lower classes and other suspect groups that are targeted and in effect lose privacy. As a result we create a double standard where rich white people don’t get prosecuted for the same things as groups that are assumed to be less desierable.

Prohias February 23, 2006 7:38 PM

While I support the banning of cameras and protecting “privacy” I want to guess at enumerating what most “normal” people would be concerned with, rank ordering them:

  1. Sexual related activity direct/indirect: frequency of dates, affairs, sly visits to partners, video store, nudie-bar, and porn shop visits etc.
  2. Petty traffic violations that we all commit. Rolling thru at low traffic stop signs, driving through orange lights etc. Easy money for ’em cops.
  3. Use of the archived info by corporations at a later date to profile and discriminate against consumers – e.g., a life insurance company nailing you for some purpoted bad habit when you apply for coverage.
  4. Being nailed for small lies – sick day yet package store visits 🙂

Take these 4 out, and we’ll have remarkable concurrence that as a majority, we aren’t frightened about other activities: drugs, duping the govt (e.g. getting disability checks through fraud), stealing, violence etc. These “shady” activities are mostly engaged in by the poorer and less educted in society, who for sure won’t be reading this blog!

robsp February 23, 2006 7:40 PM

Ok, so how do people in paper houses manage their lives? Maybe they can tell us what is missing from our definitions of privacy.

CC February 23, 2006 7:43 PM

I agree that the best approach to discourage legislation in this direction would be to point the cameras at the people that think this is a good idea. Unfortunately, that will never happen, since the people making the laws will exempt themselves from its jurisdiction, in the same way that the National “Do Not Call” Registry includes an exemption for political calling. Besides, you may get an exhibitionist type that would groove on the whole thing.

So, barring that, I think the best argument is from the “Who watches the watchers?” angle. In order for in-house surveillance to work, you’d have to surveil every room – otherwise, would-be lawbreakers would just go into the bathroom or the bedroom to smoke some weed or do whatever. Therefore, you have active taping of people in the shower, going to the bathroom, consummating their marital bliss, etc. – all legal activities, but also footage that a prurient police officer might jones on watching. How would you keep that from happening? What if a woman’s ex-husband is one of the watchers? How do you keep a police officer from making copies of footage, say, with a handheld video camera? How do you keep clandestine photos of celebrities from being smuggled out of the control rooms for profit? How do you ensure that it isn’t used to dissuade a political opponent from running against an incumbent who has the authority to view footage?

And if that fails, just start talking about how much they’ll have to raise taxes to put a wireless digital video camera in every room of every house. If you think about it, every taxpayer would basically have to bear the burden of the cost of all cameras in their home, since every other taxpayer would be adding a camera for every room in THEIR house. That would get expensive real quick.

Still, imagine how much fun it would be to screw with the cops by faking a murder in your living room every couple of days.

Jamie February 23, 2006 8:07 PM

I have two famous (and related) quotes that pretty much sum this up:

Quis custodiet custodes ipsos? (who wil watch the watchers?)

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The various watchdog organisations (the police, government, etc) want the power to watch over private citizens, in order to prevent them from breaking any laws. But who will be there to ensure that any such powers are not misused, or worse, seriously abused. You can keep adding more and more levels of oversight, but eventually you will have one group who has governance over all.

How can we trust that such a group is acting in the best interests of the people? More importantly, how would they know what is best for every individual person? Not everybody is the same.

Jamie February 23, 2006 8:20 PM

Another way to look at the problem is to ask “how much is too much?”

I think that the only right answer is based on the law of diminishing returns:
* Up to a certain level, an increase in police presence will result in a greater decrease in crime.
* At that level, an increase in police presence will result in an equal decrease in crime.
* Beyond that level, an increase in police presence will result in a lesser decrease in crime.

If police REALLY want to increase their presence, they should do it by a small amount at a time, until they reach the point where the extra effort isn’t worth the reward.

Installing cameras everywhere obviously isn’t going to solve anything – it’s way past the point where the extra effort reaps any justifiable reward. It’s just a matter of getting police and governments to see that.

Anonymous February 23, 2006 8:57 PM

“if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

I like to walk around my house naked during the day.

I’m a hypocrite.

I toss garbage on the floor.

I put ketchup on my cereal.

I’m not a Mormon.

I pick my nose and eat the boogers, then I pick my ears and eat the wax, then I pick my eyes and eat the salt deposits, then I pull lint out of my bellybutton and look at it.

I watch 7th Heaven and cry at the teachable moments.

I’m trying to learn the guitar but I’m not very good yet.

I shout when I argue with my wife.

I read seditious websites.

PS I’m a police officer

David Magda February 23, 2006 8:59 PM

Two quotations:

We should not be building surveillance technology into standards. Law enforcement was not supposed to be easy. Where it is easy, it’s called a police state.
— Jeff Schiller

Only in a police state is the job of a policeman easy.
— Orson Welles

al_hallaj0 February 23, 2006 9:16 PM

“I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

  1. I’m paying for it.
  2. It generates too much data to be effective.
  3. It costs more than hiring police officers.
  4. It’s too easy to circumvent.
  5. It tells people when they can safely rob my house.
  6. Taping my murder is less helpful than sending an officer.
  7. It’s too easy to mask the context of an act.
  8. Nobody needs to see me naked.
  9. Someone else will make the $10k sending my “football in the groin” to America’s Funniest Videos.
  10. Did I mention that I’m paying for it?

Ed February 23, 2006 9:34 PM

The problem with all the Freedom arguments is that they come of as “I have the right to be a criminal in privacy”. This argument is more an admision that “I am doing something wrong”.

“if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

  • That you(the police) are not trustworthy and will abuse the information (voyers, stalkers).
  • That you(the police) will provide servaliance to others for criminal purposes.

Both of these things have happened and continue to happen were extreame servaliance is previlent.

Nym February 23, 2006 10:12 PM

The answer is simple: “Because it’s not the government’s job. Nor is our government’s right.”

Somewhere along the line, people forgot about the Constitution and that our government is here to serve us, not the other way around.

ovrclokd February 23, 2006 10:33 PM

i tend to quote martin niemoller at people like that. “aren’t doing anything wrong” is far too dependent on someone else’s definition of what constitutes “doing anything wrong.”

in addition, we’ve already seen that we can’t blindly trust that the government (and/or individuals in the government) will use their surveillance capability legally or accountably…

assert reject February 23, 2006 10:50 PM

The same people who ask the kind police officer’s gentle question, are the first ones to complain of a nanny state when it comes to social security spending.

drew February 24, 2006 12:00 AM

“I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

Because I don’t want you to have the power to impose your personal prejudices regarding “right” and “wrong” on me and my family.

Because I’d like to sodomize my spouse (and vice versa) in private.

Because nobody’s makeup is perfect in the bathroom at 3 AM.

Because I might be sleeping with your of-age daughter.

Because right wrongs nobody, and a license to spy and pry wrongs everybody.

Because I don’t trust you to keep your fly zipped while intruding on my sex life.

Because my rights are not subject to cancellation without notice.

Because you might not be gay.

Because hugging my daughter good night is awkward in front of millions of witnesses.

Because I am not a paid actor.

Because “personal life” means exactly that, “personal.”

Because I don’t have access to the camera in your bedroom.

Because I might have the urge to run for city council someday. (or . . . be elected to YOUR job.)

Just because I can’t be blackmailed doesn’t mean that I want to be humiliated.

Because surveillance is a French word, not an American one.

Because my freedom stops where your eyeballs begin.

Because you’re so dumb that you actually believe that.

Because you probably believe that all your officers write accurate incident reports every time, too.

You may have nothing to hide, but I’m not impotent.

another_bruce February 24, 2006 12:03 AM

i’m not doing anything wrong, but i’m kinda modest. if the whole world knew i was hung like a bull elephant, women would besiege me and i wouldn’t be able to get any work done.

Jesse B Miller February 24, 2006 12:14 AM

“if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

Its about the word wrong. There are many things that are not against the law, now or ever, that I do not want on tape. the fact that there is a recording of my actions means someone is going to see it. they will see it if I broke a law or not. Thoes who see it will have things to say about my behavior wether it is against the law or not. With cameras in our homes we not only need to worry about what the government defigns as wrong but what anyone who might see the tape defigns as wrong. This I worry about.

Brian Gongol February 24, 2006 12:38 AM

“If you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t doing anything wrong, but he didn’t need the government tapping his phone or tracking his movements. Sometimes the government is in the wrong.

SecurityMonger February 24, 2006 12:41 AM

we don’t have a crisp answer to that
question. Any suggestions?

Well, until Coffin v. United States (how’s that for a court case cite?) and the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven have been suspended, it is putting the cart before the horse.

It is not reasonable given what passes for “reasonable” elsewhere in the United States, and at the root it’s simply an intolerable invasion of privacy. 1 if by land, 2 if by sea…unless you’d rather roll over and take it where they stick it.

Don’t even get me started on the slippery slope of all or some public officials having similar cameras installed in their homes, we’ve all seen cheesy made-for-TV/screen movies where places with cameras have the cameras hotwired and a video loop fed back to the guard shack so the rent-a-cop sees nothing happening. Meanwhile, intruders scurry to and fro, stealing all but the kitchen sink in that scenario.

That could work both ways, you know. “Your Honor, I couldn’t have killed that person because I was at home watching reruns and the police department has video to prove it.” Instant alibi and proof that the defendant “didn’t do anything wrong.” It’s only necessary to know a few things about video feeds. Just about anyone can pick up the needed knowledge at almost any public library, the public officials won’t even have to make pretenses. They’ll probably even make “new loop feeding now” a selling point. Bah, politicians. Sounds like that Sheriff needs to assume a commissioner seat on the Peter Principle.

Swiss Connection February 24, 2006 1:32 AM


So what is the essence of the right to privacy coming out of these comments:

  • Right to bodily Integrity (who knows about my hemmoroids and sex life?)
  • Right to protection against abuse of power (stalking, abuse of information)
  • Right to legal defence, precautionary and after the event (right today is wrong tomorrow)
  • Right of ownership (credit card info, protection against thieves)

Any others?

These points have been enshrined in law in all civilized societies since eons – Basic human rights ARE the essence of modern civilization. Their denial is barbarian and those who susbcribe to their erosion are the real terrorists of this world.

Roland February 24, 2006 2:35 AM

we don’t have a crisp answer to that
question. Any suggestions?

Well… If everyone defines “wrong” the same way, there probably isn’t any need to worry. On the other hand, what I consider wrong may not be what the law or the police (or just the surveillance people) consider wrong, and from that the problems arise.

Michiel February 24, 2006 3:06 AM

“if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?” is the biggest nonsense excuse heard when privacy evading policites are announced.

Eventhough I don’t trust the current administration, let’s just assume for the sake of it that we can all trust the current administration with the information & systems handling such camera’s.

Still, someone might be possible to hack these camera’s and start to use them for his own benefits (or pleasure). Even hacking is not needed, since we all know the recent case where surveilance agents had been on purpose viewing inside of a woman’s apartment (even projecting it on a big screen in the control room).

And even if we trust the current administration (which I don’t), who guarantees us that a future administration can be trusted? In the thirties, the population register in the Netherlands was very advanced; religions of all people were properly documented. Why would that harm people? Not under the goverment which collected this information. Unfortunately WO.II started and this information (i.e. jews), available for the enemy, was very helpfull. We all know the results 🙁

Goose February 24, 2006 3:42 AM

‘Because I like to insert favourite word for sex in my kitchen’

There are some really good one-liners in comments above.

pimp_daddy February 24, 2006 3:59 AM


“….women would besiege me and i wouldn’t be able to get any work done.”

a_b I like to think that that would be your work!


Gabriel Strange February 24, 2006 4:40 AM

This is another great security invention that won’t stop crime, if the criminals know about it they can bypass it. If we think it makes us more secure then we will let other areas of security lapse. Are the cameras going to have night vision filters so they can see in the dark? Will they record audio? How long will recorded footage be kept? Who has access to that footage? These are all questions that need solid answers. However in the bigger picture the UK wants a law whereby they can hold someone for 30 days without charge or evidence, I think a similar law has been passed in the US. Now if you can be arrested with No Charge and No evidence, you need a clear-cut definition of what ‘wrong’ is. Is a Teenage boy writing a Zombie story wrong, well in some sates of the US it would seem that is the case. The Law is a loose interpretation based on a set of over complex and vague rules, what it means something to one person means something different to the next. Deviant behaviour and terrorist acts are not specified clearly in the law. I’m a role-player and would some of the game that are run could be classified as terrorist act, could I be arrested for a perfectly safe hobby, the answer is yes. The question is what other hobbies do people have that may be classified as deviant. If you’re a historian who documents modern terrorism or other such moot subject, then you could be classified a deviant or supporting terrorism, when you’re actually doing a public service.

The counter question has to be, ‘How do I know if I’m doing something wrong and who defines what wrong is anyway?’

Anonymous February 24, 2006 4:49 AM

The police shouldn’t be judging whether I am doing something wrong or not, they should only be concerned with whether I am doing something illegal.
They are very clearly lacking in imagination if they cannot envisage a situation where I am not doing anything illegal yet none the less I would not wish to be observed.

Ed T. February 24, 2006 6:05 AM

My answer is that you deal with this type of idiocy the same way you deal with the conspiracy theory wackos who claim that the aliens kidnapped the second assassin on the grassy knoll, and are holding him along with Elvis somewhere on the second moon of Uranus: expose their disturbing daydreams to the light of reason, and through satire, sarcasm, and below-the-belt ridicule force them to confront their own delusional thoughts.

See my own comments on our police chief’s latest drug-induced hallucinations (either that, or he has been taking “Mein Kampf” to heart) at:



jsminch February 24, 2006 6:17 AM

Doesn’t it seem peculiar that so many people who read this blog and, presumably, think about privacy on a fairly regular basis, have such a difficult time explaining why such an obviously Orwellian thing as the government putting video cameras in our homes is wrong? Some write about cops seeing us naked or abusing the info that they get or whether or not it would be an effective way to protect the public. But only a few have said that the action of the government putting cameras in our private homes is, in and of itself, wrong, regardless of what they may or may not do with the information.
It seems that folks who are so concerned with privacy might have thought a little bit more about such things. After all, all other discussions about what should be kept private and who they should be kept private from depend upon these very points. I asked myself why this might be such a problem for folks and came up with two possibilities.

1) There is no “right to privacy??? explicitly enumerated in the Constitution.
My answer to a cop asking “…why should you worry about it?” would be “Because it’s my house.??? And that is all that he needs to know. I realize that this is not a direct answer to his question, but that’s not my fault, he’s the one who asked the wrong question. It is not a matter of my “worrying about it??? or not, it’s about the Constitutionally recognized fact that in the U.S.A. I have the right to do, or not to do, what I wish with what belongs to me. The problem is that our legislatures and courts have spent the last several decades eroding our rights to property, but any “right to privacy??? is inextricably tied to a right to own the thing that one wishes to keep private. The concept of one universal all-encompassing “right to privacy??? that has been extrapolated from the Constitution by the courts since the fifties has had the effect of divorcing the two, and, divorced, both become meaningless.
Several decades ago America began (with entirely good intentions, and many good results), telling people who they had to serve in their businesses. Then we went on to tell them who they had to employ in their businesses. Then who they had to rent their homes to. Then what they had to include in their health insurance. Until now, here in Washington State, we just voted to relieve business owners of their right to allow people to smoke in their businesses. The same people who moan and wail about the Patriot Act are more than willing to remove someone’s right to run their business the way they want to on their own property.
Many cities are know for property taxing folks out of their fully paid for homes. But if the government can tax you out of your home, then you don’t own your home. The Supreme Court decided that your city can take away your home to put up a shopping mall, which also boils down to… you don’t own your home. If I want to build a deck in my back yard I have to get permission from the city… I don’t own my land. All of this is going on under the noses of those of people who fight daily, in the courts and in the streets, for their “right to privacy.??? But they say nary a word. But if you don’t own your home, why shouldn’t the cops be able to put a camera in it? We have handed our property over to the State already, now we’re getting upset because they want to see what’s inside?
There is no right to privacy explicitly enumerated in the Constitution because it was assumed that I would be allowed control over what was mine, including the right not to let other people use, look at it, or tell me what to do with it. This is a right we no longer have.

2) In a relativistic society, there are no real “rights.???
Perhaps the other reason people are having such a hard time defending what they consider to be a basic right is that, whether you want to believe it or not, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written and ratified by people whose world view (whether Theist or Deist) included a creator God that had granted certain rights to mankind, and, therefore the fact that we have rights and that tree (or, at the time, that Black Man) over there doesn’t, is because God gave them to us. But nowadays such a belief is passé and we try to find other sources for our rights. But rights must always be granted, (or at least believed to have been granted) never invented out of “whole cloth,??? because if they are invented then anyone can make up their own and therefore that cop has just as much a right to put a camera in my home as I have to stop him. And if he can argue it better in court, or before the town council (see Plato’s Republic), then he has more rights than me. Whether one believes in God or not, trying to establish human rights without Him is like trying to nail a board to the wind.

Ed T. February 24, 2006 6:27 AM


“…is so nutty that I wasn’t even going to blog it.”

Actually, I am glad you did. When I read the article (it appeared in the Houston Chronicle last week), I couldn’t figure if the trembling was from absolute terror, or an overpowering rage. Unfortunately, I live and work in an area subject to the control of this raving lunatic, who has taken control of a PD whose record on human rights is comparable to, oh, let us say, the country of (insert the two-bit dictatorship of your choice here — right or left wing, it doesn’t matter.)

So, instead of cowering in fear, or dreaming of a great big mushroom cloud over the Houston skyline, I decided to put my thoughts down on my own blog, in the hope that others would see it and at least think about what this would do to their lives. While I quoted you several times, for some reason the trackbacks to those articles didn’t ‘take’, but that may be due to the configuration of the server my site is hosted on.

I will agree with you, however, on your classification of this idea as “nutty”. Unfortunately, as our police force becomes increasingly resource-constrained, I am afraid that we are going to see more examples of this type of “out of the box” thinking.

Oh, and as far as one-liners goes, I happen to like the following quote from my own entry:

“Houston Mayor Bill White hasn’t talked with Hurtt about his idea, but sees it as more of a ‘brainstorm’ than a ‘decision.’

I see it as more of a ‘brainfart’, Mr. Mayor.”


Jens Meiert February 24, 2006 6:37 AM

“if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

That’s not an argument /for/ surveillance, it’s the perfect argument /against/ it.

assert reject February 24, 2006 7:07 AM

jsminch’s comment is very apt. the question is a trick question, ‘why would you worry about it’? What the question causes us to do is worry about it, rather than directly oppose the outrage he is proposing.

This is very typical publicist tactics, and the as the public, we have to get smart about these tricks.

Others also pointed out how he has shifted the onus onto us to respond, when it is he who is in the wrong.

Would be nice to have some public education websites dedicated simply to dealing with PR/propoganda/brain-washing/call-it-what-you-will.

Here is perhaps a good starting point, though it’s toward arguments, rather than one-liners. Still, good exercise for the consume-trained mind:


Nick Fortune February 24, 2006 7:08 AM

“One of the problems we have in the privacy community is that we don’t have a crisp answer to that question. Any suggestions?”

When did we buy into the presupposition that hiding our supposed misdemeanors is the only possible reason we might value our privacy?

Of course there isn’t a good crisp answer to the issue as phrased, just as there isn’t a good crisp answer to “have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

The solution is to challenge the presuppositions underlying the question.

4th ammendment February 24, 2006 7:22 AM

A few responses to “if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

“If you are not a bad policeman, you shouldn’t have a problem with law-abiding citizens exercising their 4th amendment rights.”

Or more bluntly:
“If you were a good cop, you wouldn’t be trying to break the law to make your job easier.”

Or perhaps:
“When you have a lawful warrant for the search for criminals that empowers you to search my private space with a camera. Then you can do it.”

“I worry about it, because it’s MY home.”

“You’ve told me how you’re gonna watch me, now how do I watch you?”

“How many criminals have state-run cameras in private residences caught today?”

And finally:
“Wouldn’t it be more productive to spend this time working on getting more police on to the street to solve the problem, instead of spending money on putting cameras in the houses of law-abiding citizens?”

Vasu February 24, 2006 7:35 AM

The simple answer to
“if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

“since I am not doing anything wrong, ‘you’ don’t worry about it? “

Justsomeoneelse February 24, 2006 8:03 AM

Interesting. So it is impossible for a criminal to use the feeds at the stations to commit crimes? Get a family schedule, I am sure all the politicians will be monitored by the police, I mean, just in case they need help.

Just a few days ago, I saw in a local news channel ( Costa Rica ), that a local female singer was shooting a video in the US near a university, they were approached by officials, took the video check what was on it and returned the video to the filming guys BUT with express instructions, not to film anything else there… BUT they want to place cameras at homes?

draq February 24, 2006 8:28 AM

Well, the question is very paradoxical. Given that criminals won’t be monitored voluntarily (thus sh*t on the question and the questioner) and that “well-behaved citizens” obeying their police chief won’t do anything wrong, why does he ask anyway?

Personally, I don’t like to be caught red-handed while defaming government bodies.


C Smith February 24, 2006 8:41 AM

@Gee (February 23, 2006 01:58 PM) nailed most of the criteria…
1. It must villify.
2. It should be socially embarrassing.
3. It must be possible to address the soundbite directly at an individual.

I took one or two above, and forged this pithy one.

“If I’m not doing anything wrong, why do you need to watch?”

Hits, 1,2,3 above, plus … it does not change the subject, but follows from exactly the same premise as the challenge.

I like this enough, that I may replace my .sig of 4 years…

“Nihil tam munitum quod non expugnari pecuna possit” –Cicero

Dawn Cohen February 24, 2006 8:42 AM

Perhaps Saki said it best:

(From his short story, Tobermory, which, by the way, is oddly apropos)

“Miss Scrawen, who wrote fiercely sensuous poetry and led a blameless life, merely displayed irritation; if you are methodical and virtuous in private you don’t necessarily want everyone to know it.”

Steve February 24, 2006 8:45 AM

@travelgirl took the words right off my keyboard. In exchange, the police chief and the mayor should submit to 24 hour a day webcams, with audio feed, in their offices, cars, homes, and anywhere else they go, and be required to wear a “wire” at all times.

Now that I think about it, maybe that’s a good idea for public officials in general. It would probably have helped keep Jack Abramoff and Randy “Duke” Cunningham on the “straight and narrow”.

theodoric February 24, 2006 8:47 AM

Q. if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?

A. I don’t want you to go to Hell for watching me have sex with my wife.

mgrah February 24, 2006 8:50 AM

In the US, wrong is ultimately in the eye of the public, not it’s officials. A badge does not imply a brain or some great wisdom driving action. It’s a piece of metal representing a public trust. If the community at large prefers not to be monitored to that degree, it is not up to law enforcement to second guess it’s employer. Showing contempt for public opinion with flippant remarks regarding a preference for privacy should be a one-way ticked to rent-a-cop-ville for the illustrious chief.

Passerby February 24, 2006 8:51 AM

  1. “I worry about you, Chief; I know how it distresses you when you violate the Constitution.”

  2. “It’s the theory of the ‘unitary citizen.'”

  3. “Your present motto — ‘To Protect and To Serve’ — is way cooler than ‘To Subject and Observe.'”

  4. “The power of universal surveillance is not implied by the USA VOYEUR ACT.”

Stu February 24, 2006 8:58 AM

How about the classic political tactic of answering one question with another:

“If I’M not doing anything wrong, why should YOU worry about it?”


alanstriegel February 24, 2006 9:08 AM

We need argue against this, but I’d also advise that people “follow the money” and look for somebody’s profit motive behind such proposals. It is always present, so keep digging until the beneficiaries are exposed.

Hugh No February 24, 2006 9:14 AM

As has been mentioned a couple of times so far, the short answer is

“It’s none of your (damned) business!”

radiantmatrix February 24, 2006 9:27 AM

“If you’re not doing anything wrong, why worry?”

If I’m not doing anything wrong, why watch me?

Our Constitutional requirement for due process says that you must have a reasonable cause — that is, a good reason to be suspicious that I’ve done something wrong — before you can search me. Cameras are a form of search (at least in traditionally private areas).

So, I guess my other response is, “people are safest in a free society: if you want to protect us, stop taking away our freedoms!”

Tom Grant February 24, 2006 9:32 AM

To the Chief:

“Why Chief! What possible motive could you (and your staff) have for wanting to perform video surveillance of my eleven year old daughter?”


“Yes, Chief. We should use your Son’s college dorm room as a beta site!”

And of course we have as a key issue the age old question of “Who watches the watchers?”

Hey! Maybe we should get to monitor surveillance tapes of them (police) at work and in their homes! What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, ‘eh?

A public website where we can login and watch our tax dollars at work? I mean, we do pay their salaries, right? So we are justified in oversight, correct?

And, while we’re at it, I’d like to monitor calls to and from their phones (home and work) just to be sure that I “get all the facts” and don’t ‘misconstrue’ something that I see on tape. No-one likes false accusations. Heck, my employer monitors my phone calls, e-mails, and internet use all day, every day…why shouldn’t we (John Q. Public) monitor our City, County, State, and Federal employees much more closely?

I mean…If they aren’t doing anything wrong they shouldn’t have any problem with that…right?

Power corrupts. Absolute power is even more fun.

Brerarnold February 24, 2006 9:43 AM

How’s this for crisp:

“Just try it.”

If you get my drift.

C’mon, folks. We don’t argue with this stuff. We stand up against it. We make the cost of implementing it greater than any perceived benefit could possibly be. And in the end, we just don’t let them in the door. Yes, I mean what you think I mean. It’s the same kind of thing Tom Jefferson meant. “Our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor … ” If your very home is not worth that level of response, you have nothing that is. Which would be beyond sad.

Nell Walton February 24, 2006 9:58 AM

I don’t have curtains on my windows because looking in and seeing us naked is punishment enough for anyone. I’m sure some of the police monitoring these cameras would probably put their own eyes out after a while thereby solving the problem.

Martin Budden February 24, 2006 10:26 AM

“If you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it [surveillance]?”

The short answer is that you cannot be sure that the person doing the watching is not doing anything wrong.

This can happen in a number of ways:

i) individual incompetance: for example, the watcher may mis-identify someone and cause an innocent person to be arrested. Furthermore, fearing for their job, the watcher may not admit their mistake later on (eg when the case comes to trial).
ii) systematic or procedural incompentance. For example: the procedure to deal with the surveillance data is ill-thought out and inherently causes false positives (cf no-fly lists)
iii) individual corruption: the watcher may inform their criminal colleagues that I am at the mall, so that they can go and rob my house
iv) intimidation by criminals. Criminals may threaten or blackmail the watchers to reveal surveillance information.
v) personal abuse of power by the watcher. For example: I have an argument with the watcher at (say) a football game. The watcher then decides to do whatever they can to make my life hell.

The above are just off the top of my head, and I’ve deliberately excluded the ways the state can abuse the surveillance material, since there are plenty of postings on that subject already.

jammit February 24, 2006 11:25 AM

If we aren’t doing anything wrong, then why the surveillance? This presumes guilt before innocence. Anything caught on the camera would be thrown out in court by a good lawyer and made inadmissable. There goes your good evidence.

Probitas February 24, 2006 11:43 AM

“If you’re not doing anything wrong, why worry?”

I wouldn’t personally object to this particular form of warrantless search, since I am not doing anything wrong. My sole objection would be bsed on the fact that Thomas Jefferson and the other framers of the Constitution of the United States of America seemed to find it pretty objectionable.

JohnJ February 24, 2006 12:11 PM

@another_bruse: “because if i’m going to be a porn star, i wanna get paid for it.”

And when they record a child running around the house nude (avoiding the new diaper), can we bring the PD up on kiddie porn charges?

kenneth February 24, 2006 1:57 PM

I usually say, “Privacy for Privacy’s sake” and ramble on about the 4th amendment and how all the exemptions allowed are a tragedy.

But I’m thoroughly convinced that these people that say “if you don’t do anything wrong, why care” will have to suffer through abuse of the system (stalked, identity theft, etc.) to get it. They blindly agree with the Law, think it’s all constitutional stuff, and they cannot consider any trade-offs. No justification can be made against threat-of-life (too expensive, too intrusive, it’s impossible).

So I still say “privacy for privacy’s sake” and just point out the examples of abuse when it happens.

assert reject February 24, 2006 4:47 PM

soo .. the correct answer is ‘why should I worry? I worry because you want to replace police with cameras and you want to put a camera into my home’.

g. February 24, 2006 5:10 PM

In my experience is there is no good single response.
For most people
“Then I’d like to see your Account-Balancing sheets and the forms you handed to the IRS please” usually does it 😉
“The video of your last colonoscopy” is a little more obscure, but at least I am amused 😉

More on topic: What I was most afraid of when reading the article, that he really thinks police presence can be in any way substituted through cameras. That should be the story, not some ridiculous idea the chief flung around as a result of that initial thought.
On to your question about answering to that ridiculus idea: I am not sure if one has to have an answer to that rhetoric question as a security researcher, since there is very obviously nothing related to security or cryptography to say on that topic.
It’s just social politics – I guess one would find a whole lot of reasons why cameras everywhere are a bad idea when searching for the keyword “panopticon” within the appropriate literature.

What it boils down to is that by constant surveillance you put people in a prison-situation – so this guy wants to basically put everyone in prison, because thats what he understands.

(This overreaching, half-baked utterance is also a very good example why in a democracy, one has three (or four, however you count) entities with checks and balances in place and why it’s so bad when one entity is weakened or an entity becomes much stronger than the others)

solivagus February 24, 2006 6:23 PM

My response to this would be to ask the person why they are wearing clothes. DO YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO HIDE?

ordaj February 24, 2006 7:16 PM

I’m amending my answer:

Board rooms, back rooms, and ball rooms first.

It’s more pithy. Or crisp, as requested.

John Stoner February 25, 2006 12:37 PM

Two crisp responses come to mind:

“If I’m not doing anything wrong, then what happens in my house in none of your damn business.”

“Then I propose your house gets the first camera, and we get to watch you. You’re not doing anything wrong, are you?”

One followup question: has this guy lost his job yet?

David Cantrell February 25, 2006 3:57 PM

“Because I don’t want anyone seeing me masturbating over perfectly legal trucker-porn”

RvnPhnx February 25, 2006 6:24 PM

I have one answer for this moron:
J. Edgar Hoover
The World in General
(starring: MLK Jr., FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower….etc.)
Have I made my point?

stevemcmaine February 25, 2006 8:13 PM

A couple of things. Because I, ME am the rightful owner of my own body. Because it is MY home, my CASTLE, my property, and property rights are the foundation of all liberty. And mostly, because I won’t let you do what you like with MY property. My ‘freedom’ isn’t negotiable by you. Most importantly, I WILL defend my ‘freedom’, so if you feel like you have the ‘right’ to aim something at me, Well, I have something to aim at you also.

stevemcmaine February 25, 2006 8:15 PM

On another note, a question I have? When the cameras undoubtedly show underage ( and of course it varies by locality ) teenagers, masturbating and having sex, will the police be arrested as child porn ringleaders?

Anonymous February 25, 2006 10:27 PM

“One of the problems we have in the privacy community is that we don’t have a crisp answer to that question. Any suggestions?”

“Get stuffed” comes to mind…

Jeffrey February 26, 2006 7:56 PM

Uhhh, I seem to recall hearing that, what? Just a few people DIED so I could enjoy these freedoms? Why should I ignore this sacrifice for this officer’s budget problem?

Angus McDonald February 26, 2006 9:19 PM

Q: If you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?

A1: Because it creates an actual compromise in my personal security that is not justified by the potential increase in the ability of the police to react to breaches of my personal security.

A2: Because I don’t want to add to your personal porn collection. Here, let me do a quick frisk of your person, apply a blood and urine test, and then let’s talk about what you did in high school … then I’ll have a better idea of why I should say no to you having access to my personal life.

A3: If that’s the best response to the crime problem you can come up with … then you’re fired!

Dimitris Andrakakis February 27, 2006 4:13 AM

I think McGavin above said it in the best possible way:

“I’m not worried about ME doing something wrong, I’m worried about YOU doing something wrong.”

RvnPhnx February 27, 2006 8:47 AM

I wonder if law enforcement putting cameras in private citizens’ homes could be construed as a violation of the 3rd ammendment? After all, doing so is effectively the same (observation-wise) as stationing an officer in the house.

Anonymous February 27, 2006 11:11 AM

Jamie had it right up-thread:

“Who will watch the watchers?”

There are many instances of police and security personnel abusing cameras and making videos of the people they are supposed to be watching. Why would anyone object to public access to Abu Ghraib video feeds, unless they had something to hide?

WatchMeWatchYou February 27, 2006 1:12 PM

Just out of curiousity..

Can I cover the cameras that are in my home or would that be illegal? What about disconnecting them? Removing the fuse they are on? Whose footing the electrical bill? Who is going to pay for the storage of all this video?

Of course, the answer the question is: I’m assuming the funds are coming from taxes. As such, I have no desire to pay so other people can watch me. And I really have no desire to watch anyone else…

Charlie February 27, 2006 1:34 PM

Because I do not exist to serve the needs of the seriously sick people that would want to watch the videos.

It’s just a blackmail factory anyway.

Curly February 27, 2006 3:42 PM

Best response: “If I’m not doing anything wrong, then why does the police chief need to know?” Chief Hurtt sounds a little too prurient to me. Besides, why should I divulge my secrets to a government that won’t share its secrets with me?

Stefan Wagner February 27, 2006 4:57 PM

“if you are not doing anything wrong, why should
you worry about it”

c) Wrong question, but don’t worry.

a) I left church, because I felt uncomfortable beeing watched all day and all night.

b) Having sex with melons isn’t illegal. Perhaps it’s wrong. Surely it’s nothing I like a police-officer to see.

c) If you have a camera-device, which will only capture if something is wrong…

How many cameras will I need per room to cover most of it?

I worry about people in force which don’t have the certain feeling, that such observations (hypothetically assuming they would be technical practible and very cheap) would be ok.

The society has to bring the idea of doing right to the mind of its people, so they accept it mostly, without being observed.
You can replace trust with observation – to some degree, in some circumstances – is it that what you want?

(posting from europe with similar problems and similar problem-solvers)

Sandro Magi February 27, 2006 6:56 PM

“if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

My response: “I won’t worry about it, as soon as you can prove to me that those controlling the cameras, are PERFECTLY just, rational, and uncorruptable, and will ALWAYS be so.”

I think that adequately exposes the fallacy in this reasoning, as it explains the primary reason for controls on government power in the first place.

Colin February 27, 2006 10:08 PM

Actually I do have a suggestion. If the police chief would allow us to install the cameras in his home and office for say about a month, I might consider doing the same for my home and office.

JustSomeFawkinGuy February 28, 2006 5:59 AM

The way things used to be done– is a quick lynching of such an “official”. You can’t get crisper than that.

Oh, and sure– videotape it.

Passerby February 28, 2006 8:44 AM

The question implies the worrisome unproven assumption that “having anything one wishes to hide” is equivalent to “doing something wrong.” Scary.

dmc February 28, 2006 10:23 AM

Many have suggested that it would be equally appropriate for them to view video surveillance of Chief Hurtt, as it would be for Chief Hurtt’s staff to view them.

Chief Hurtt would disagree…after all, his staff are trained law enforcement officials.

But I wonder if Chief Hurtt thought about the possibilities in being monitored by his own staff.


ThatFawkinGuyAgain February 28, 2006 10:53 AM

Ask yourself: What could be higher treason than violation of the public trust?

Did you forget who works for whom?

Anonymous February 28, 2006 11:03 AM

On the day of 9-11 i remember watching the 2nd aircraft hitting one of the towers. I thought to myself: “Oh men… NOW the shit has realy hit the fan…” Ever since then there has been a progressive erosion of privacy rights in the US and consequently all around the globe. One thing i do know: at least one of the founding fathers is spinning at a few 1000’s rpm’s in is grave…

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Benjamin Franklin

Crosbie Fitch February 28, 2006 11:09 AM

1) If the observed are doing nothing wrong, then their video feeds maybe safely published for all. Let only those who are doing wrong enjoy privacy.

This means senior politicians must either reveal all, or consider themselves in the wrong (and be automatically disqualified from office).

2) If the state is a servant of the people, and needs privacy from its master, then at the very least, its master should have privacy from its servant.

Can’t have it both ways. Either neither need privacy, or both deserve it.

Mr_e March 1, 2006 5:19 PM

I just have 1 question.

How much of “The Constitution” is actually effectively active right now? I don’t know the answer but ill bet it is very little.

peachpuff March 2, 2006 11:30 PM

My suggestions:

Because it’s creepy.

I object on principle.

I don’t trust people who don’t trust me.

Kevin March 3, 2006 6:39 PM

I say go ahead, put cameras in all homes. Let us see the most disgusting, disgraceful lows that humanity can stoop to without even breaking the law. How gross can it get? How sick can people be? Let us find out things we wish we had never known about each other. Think about it and you’ll know the things you would rather not know. Let us unfriend friends, disown relatives, abhor our neighbors with what we learn about them and see what a wonderful society we become. We’re human, we’re not perfect and we don’t all agree with and like what others do. It would intrigue us to watch at first and it would freak us out in the end (the collective majority at least.) I suspect the experiment would be short lived and when even those that decided the camers were a good idea rip them out and destroy them only a few perverts will be left wondering where their entertainment went…but they’ll get over it and find new ways to entertain themselves.

Then we can answer that question by simply reflecting on our history and seeing how foolish we were.

It’s not a crisp answer but such ill-thought out suggestions cannot be crisply answered. Rather the person suggesting this needs an education on what it means to be human and to understand all the mental and emotional baggage that comes with the ability to think and have free-will.

peachpuff March 4, 2006 12:48 AM

Here’s the best reply I’ve thought of:

I’m afraid of being unjustly harmed. Prove that can’t happen, and I’ll stop worrying about it.

It’s crisp, true, and highlights the absurdity of the question.

NAman March 8, 2006 1:22 PM

I’m 16, I masturbate every day, if these laws where inacted i couldent do that, at all(due to my preferences).

What if i was trying to send private data on my computer encryption would be pointless because it’s on camera, and if you don’t have accses to that data you could make a legal accusation against me that calls for the vedio to be shown in cort and there they can view my computer screen and keyboard as i type.

Also I’m “paranoid-delusional” i get scared when i think of things like this; if I see my finget prints on the side of a glass of water i whipe them off, I won’t enter much data on myself onto the net. If there’s a camera pointed at my face every day, id put up a tent in my bedroom and put my computer, and put the bit of my bed that has my head on it inside the tent.

Also the last big country-wide thing that was seen in the same way as this, that I know of occured in England, it was the doomsday-book, it kept a record of everyone’s name and some other info for statistics that the government could use for good purposes form the point of view of the people. That caused (along with other reasons like taxes), if I recall correctally, the peasents revolt, where milllions of peasents revolted obviously. It resulted in the death of many policticions, religious figure-heads, and solgiers (not to mention the mass slortering of that million peasents armed with gardening tools, by knights)
This, I think, will cause something worse, one person can get mass amounts of power and if that power sparkes them to anarchy, then god help us all.

Peter da Silva March 8, 2006 3:23 PM

I would really like to see a complete transcript of what he actually said. I haven’t been able to find the original story on the Seattle PI site, and the links that I have found don’t include many of Hurtt’s own words.

Simple As Simon March 12, 2006 10:07 PM

The chief could use the cameras to monitor crime. There are technologies to help security people monitor a large number of cameras for crime. I think they were being beta tested in England.

I am more concerned about the authenticity of the monitored video. What is to prevent a “Rising Sun”, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107969/ ,
scenario where the video ‘evidence’ is fixed to deflect blame or concoct a case.

BTW, I have skimmed the comments, sorry if I duplicate some one elses comment.

Philosopher Al March 13, 2006 1:56 PM

“Quis Custodiet Custodes” remains the best.

I am sure that Chief Hurrt intends the cameras installed in someone’s house to be watching for those who would commit a crime against the homeowner, and not to watch the homeowner for commission of a crime. That still doesn’t make it right or even sensible.

The suggestion that cameras should be installed in all police stations and cars, and streamed onto the web continuously is another good response. After all, if they aren’t doing anything wrong, why should they worry about it?

It is obvious that both the police and homeowners have many legal things that they wish not to share–standard procedures that revealed would tip off the bad guys, plans for the next big thing in business, working out how to deal with granny’s hurt feelings, etc. Until these can be protected, then there is a lot for us to worry about, even though we are doing nothing wrong.

Farrell March 15, 2006 4:48 AM

Of course, the problems with panopticon are many; sorting through all the information, information verification, and information integrity to name a few.

Finding what you want in a large amount of data is the easiest of this…but how can you verify that what your observation device was correctly functioning…and how do you make sure that if the data is captured correctly, it is stored in a way that is incontrovertible?

After spending many millions of dollars in surveillance systems, all it will take is one case that “proves” the integrity of the system is suspect to make it useless for most court cases. It’s like DNA, sure it can provide definitive proof that someone was at a place, but unless there is a proper chain of evidence and lab proceedures, it can be thrown out.

Data without context and integrity is just so many bits of information. With them, it is useable knowledge.

The ethical implications of this are also many. For example, the “Landslide” incident where different police forces acted in wildly different ways to a database of names and credit card numbers is a good example of this. Some used it as just one data point, and sought other data corroborate, others simply acted on the one data point and arrested everyone on the listing. This shows that the context of the data was ignored, and that the data was tainted because some stolen identities were part of the listing.

This should be a warning sign on the road to the panopticon, we ignore it at our peril.

Farrell McGovern

Curt Frye March 15, 2006 6:05 AM

“Here is a copy of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. I could have sworn they gave you one during your training.”


Stephen G March 15, 2006 6:16 AM

I’m posting from the UK, where we have CCTV cameras all over the place. I also work in the criminal justice system, so I see the footage that’s produced in court.

By and large, while CCTV film is very good for proving a narrative account of what happened — who hit whom first, and what happened next, if you know who the people are who are on film — it’s generally very little use actually for identifying anyone, since the images are usually too indistinct, as they’re shot from a long distance in less than optimal lighting conditions.

This is frequently the case even when they’ve been installed by the proprietor in commercial premises. Only a few weeks ago we watched edited footage of some guys playing pool in a bar for over an hour; the best anyone could say after watching it, I think, was that one of the players did, indeed, quite resemble the defendant, in that he was in his late 20s or early 30s, white, of slim build, short, with short dark hair, played pool left-handed, and was wearing dark jeans and a light shirt, clothes which the defendant owned (as, of course do a few other people!).

Yes, it probably was him, but that certainly wasn’t enough actually to place the defendant in the bar at the time, particularly since it was accepted by both sides that the left-handed pool player had gone on to commit a robbery shortly after leaving the bar and should, whoever he was, go to prison for a long time once he was firmly identified.

The main uses of these things, I think, is to alert the police that something’s happening (there’s a fight going on at such-and-such a corner) and to deter (or at least displace) crime in areas where the cameras are installed. They also have the useful side-effect that the street lighting usually has to be improved in areas where they’re installed, thus rendering the immediate area less welcoming to muggers.

Roger Lee March 15, 2006 6:47 AM

Perhaps the biggest problem with “If you’re not doing anything wrong…” is that it quite simply isn’t true.

I live in the UK, and we have CCTV everywhere. Like certain other countries, our leaders are using the threat of terrorism to push through a lot of legislation that would not have been countenanced even 5 years ago. One of these measures allows for the incarceration of individuals without charge for up to 28 days. Another, unrelated, development is the use of speed- and traffic- cameras to scan numberplates. This information will not only be used to spot tax dodgers and speeders, but also to “deny the use of the roads to criminals and terrorists”.

Yup, we’re back to pattern recognition.

In order to become of interest to the Police as a terrorist, you only need to park near to a vehicle subsequently used in a terrorist attack a couple of times, and it isn’t hard to see how this might happen to a travelling salesman or similar, and to be implicated in a robbery, you only need to travel the route that a vehicle stolen for use in that robbery took back to the area it was stored in the period before the actual robbery at about the same time as that vehicle.

Whereas these are low-probability risks, this will happen to some unfortunate individuals, and the end result is going to be an unpleasant experience, possibly going on for quite a long time, depending on other factors in their profiles.

The important thing to note is that you don’t have to have done anything wrong, but merely have the pattern of your life match a pattern of interest, purely accidentally!

Fred March 15, 2006 7:27 AM

“…if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

Here are a few Soundbite Answers:

  1. Because it’s a waste of taxpayer money.
  2. It’s a waste of your time as a law enforcement official.
  3. In a free society, we don’t want or need cameras watching our every move.
  4. Unless or until I break the law, what I do in public or in private is none of your business.

As noted in the many excellent answers above, a thorough discussion of difficult issues defies soundbites, while simplistic thinking uses soundbites as part of a feedback loop. However, refusing to engage in the soundbite debate (on principle or otherwise) is viewed by the participants in the soundbite debate as losing the debate, as well they should.

So, I suggest the above soundbites as a way to get back to a few of the key issues, including the cost-benefit analysis of proposed security measure and the proper measure of freedom in a free society.

That said, any proposed soundbite answer is still just a soundbite. Engaging in a soundbite debate is not a replacement for engaging in more thoughtful discourse, but nobody ever said that public debate had to be thoughtful. 😉

Job March 15, 2006 7:35 AM

Hello all,

I have quickly browsed through the replies, and maybe I have simply missed this argument (if so, I’m sorry about that).
In my country, there have been at least seven incidents in the last two years, ranging from laptops or USB sticks left in the rental car to someone dumping his computer + data with the trash, of confidential government data getting lost or stolen. At least four of those times it ended up in the hands of the media.
Also, someone beat me to the point that in the 1930’s my country had a very thorough registration system, but assumed the results were known to the public. To the eternal shame of The Netherlands, the result was that during the occupation, the percentage of Jews killed was IIRC only second to Germany itself, and IIRC only by a difference of less than one percent…
Sometimes the views on what is something to hide can change overnight, dramatically.

Kind Regards,


JJzD March 15, 2006 8:14 AM

“Why if you don’t do anything wrong?”

Because it turns around the basic legal principle of somebody is innocent until proven opposit.
At the moment you monitor everybody, you assume everybody is quilty and has to prove he is not.
Kinda sick society

Mick Ashby March 15, 2006 8:15 AM

Bring them down with psychological jujitzu:

  1. Stripping everyone of their privacy is the goal of every fascist.

  2. Watching everyone stripping is the goal of every pervert.

  3. So when did you start having these perverted fascist power-fantasies?

Andy March 15, 2006 8:58 AM

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.??? — William Pitt, House of Commons, 11/18/1783.

Juzam March 15, 2006 9:10 AM

I’m from Spain but this is a quote that I often hear of- “If you are doing nothing wrong…”
Well. Suppose that we accept this and we put cameras on our houses. A year later we are going to be asked to put chips on our bodies to track our movements (“If you are doing nothing wrong …”). And a year later…
If we let them to do this, they will come back to us in months asking us to put another stupid-pseudo-security protection. We will no let our freedom and privacity fly away because it won’t return.
(And BTW, when my house-camera doesn’t work will be a police calling at my door? Maybe they think I’m doing something wrong). It’s nonsense.

(Sorry my bad english).

Michael Conlen March 15, 2006 9:56 AM

There’s several issues that privacy covers. The police want to find out what people are doing that’s illegal. That’s the first issue that privacy covers, it lets you do illegal things without being caught. The home poker game might be an example.

All other issues don’t have to do with legal or illegal, but a subjective idea of “wrong”. Lets say I’m discussing having an abortion and the person who monitors the tape believes it’s “wrong” to do so. They have information about me I don’t want them to have, further they might act on that information, and even more devastating is that they will be a person of authority as they, hopefully, work for the police department and have all the resources of the police department at their disposal. At the very least they could make that information public.

The next issue has to do with politics, and supporting the “wrong” cause is certainly “wrong” in someone’s eyes. The police are controlled by the state, which is controlled by the politicians who happen to be in power. Those politicians will have the influence to gain access to information about people who disagree with them which can be used to silence them. Even if the politician doesn’t initiate the request for information, someone looking to make a good impression and get on someone’s good side might pass along information they gleaned from the invasion of privacy.

Those are two things people have to worry about who are doing nothing illegal.

skullcrusher March 15, 2006 10:00 AM

Followed the link in Cryptogram and scanned down to the end. Some good comments but am astonished that no one has properly divided the problem into pieces:
1) Surveillance in public areas – You are all attacking the status quo, apparently confused because the police are using new technology to make the surveillance they have always done more efficient. The police can hang out in person in public areas now and look at whatever they want. This is called a beat cop, has existed since the Peelers, and is one of the most effective crime control strategies. All of you can do the same. This is called tourism or a neighborhood watch association depending on who lives where. Now do it with a camera and record it ( Oh wait! Remember that Japanese tourist? Its a sinister plot!) and all of a sudden its the end of the world? Who is out there bitching about permanent web cams that are in a gazillion public places? Anyone could tape those if they wanted to. Please try and tone down the paranoia a bit.
2) Cameras in the home. Yeah right, like that’s going to happen because some fool in Houston proposes it. Any politician who allowed this would be voted out of office in a heartbeat. Or imagine if it happened. How do I defeat this system? Dust? A piece of tape? A cup of water? A power failure? OOOOOO!!!!! Scary!!!!!
3) The crux of the problem, and of people’s fears, is
A) the erosion of property rights (as listed in other posts above). The solution to this is to repeal/overturn the well intentioned but ultimately tyrannical and unconstitutional Civil Rights Act of 1964 and follow-on legislation.
B) The profusion of busybody laws to the point that everyone is constantly breaking some fool law either because they do not know it, or because they must in order to live their life. A totalitarian state will set up laws so that it is impossible to live without breaking them. That way the government can pick on anyone anytime and always have an excuse and be “in the right.” This is the fear and it is justified. The solution to this is a rewrite of the criminal and civil codes to get them down to a few pages, each which should then be memorized as a condition of high school graduation and citizenship. Of course we must reign in the busybodies to do it.

But first, kill all the lawyers. None of this is a surveillance or privacy issue. It is just the accumulation of 150 years (mostly in the past 50) of extra-constitutional law making. Please attack the root of the problem (too much government and a “living” therefore useless constitution) instead of the branches (a camera proposal).

Arthur March 15, 2006 10:59 AM

I don’t want cameras watching me because circumstantial evidence can convict an innocent man.

CowboyBob March 15, 2006 11:20 AM

The crisp answer to the question “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, why worry”? is:

If I’m not doing anything wrong, then why is the GOVERNMENT worried?

Zwiebeltuete March 15, 2006 11:37 AM

Isn’t at least one of the reasons for privacy that the people having access to my data are doing wrong? Do protect against that these people have to be surveiled, but they never want to be. But if they do nothing wrong, why to they worry?

AlanH March 15, 2006 12:20 PM

The quick soundbyte answer to the chief’s misguided “why should you worry” question is:

Because I don’t have to prove I’m innocent.

Let’s make sure “guilty until proven innocent” doesn’t become the law of the land.

Jerk Store March 15, 2006 4:05 PM

Isn’t the U.S. Constitution structured to protect the people’s ability to mount a sound revolt if government should get out of hand? The 1st Amendment and others are designed to prevent the need for a revolt. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Amendments are designed to insure our ability to organize and respond with force.

Soundbite answer: “The ability of citizens to privately organize a revolt against oppressive politicians is the final check-and-balance in the Constitution. We won’t give it up.”

Bluestone March 15, 2006 8:10 PM

If you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?

The question implies that the only reason a person may want privacy is in order to do something ‘wrong’. This is a statement that could only be made by an ass.

Joe Bftsplk March 16, 2006 9:16 AM

Most of us wear clothes. Why do that if you have nothing to hide?

The government classifies many of their documents secret. Why do they do that if they
have nothing to hide?

Al March 16, 2006 12:32 PM

A succinct comeback to

“If you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

might be

“The opposition party should be able to strategize in private.”

Nixon resigned over this issue.

The same argument applies to warrantless spying. The problem worse than listening in on innocent citizens is listening in on political opponents.

scared of the man March 17, 2006 8:39 AM

some people are doing something wrong!lets admit it lol …what about us lol

Charlie March 17, 2006 9:20 AM


There are millions of people, in deep cold forgotten graves, from Kamchatka to Cambodia, from Treblinka to Tokyo, who were told that if they had done nothing wrong, they had nothing to fear. It isn’t true.

Bob McConnell March 17, 2006 10:20 AM

“I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response
to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry
about it?”

The core problem is twofold. First, not everything is as it appears to be. How will we know that the viewers will fully understand everything that they view? Secondly, that what I consider wrong, what the viewer considers wrong, what the police consider wrong and what the courts consider wrong are likely four unique but overlapping sets. Once you get into the fringe areas, where the four sets do not agree, anyone prosecuted, even if found innocent in the end, will suffer significant losses in legal fees and self esteem.

Josef Stalin March 18, 2006 5:55 PM

I think the fellow who proposed “a woman taking a shower isn’t doing anything wrong.” is right on the money. It conveys the heart of the pro-privacy argument in terms simple enough that anyone can understand it and it is short enough to qualify as a sound bite for the attention span impaired.

I would add to it “What kind of Peeping Tom wants to put a camera in everyone’s home anyway?” This turns the question back around and puts the fascist on the defensive as he should be.

I think these two succinct phrases work great for this scenario and can be easily modified to adapt to other times the “what do you have to hide?” question is asked. “Typing a naughty letter to my spouse isn’t wrong” could be a response to the same question in the context of internet surveillance, etc.

Michael Philippi March 20, 2006 6:10 AM

My answer:
Until today i didn’t find an analysis proving that (more) video surveillance – especially to replace police officers – prevents crime. So why installing cameras at all in the first place ?

aybabtu March 21, 2006 7:19 AM

The crisp answer to the question “If you
aren’t doing anything wrong, why
worry”? is:

If I’m not doing anything wrong, then
why is the GOVERNMENT worried?

They’ll answer “We just want to check that you aren’t doing anything wrong”

Kickaha March 21, 2006 12:54 PM

How about:
“One has to wonder how a someone with such a fundamental misunderstanding of citizen’s rights could have obtained his/her position, and, more importantly, if he/she should be allowed to retain it.”

Andy March 27, 2006 7:11 AM

I am posting from Germany. Here, too, police and “if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?” guys are pressing for more surveillance.

Now, it turned out that security personell of a museum amused themselves by watching the private appartement of German chancellor, Angela Merkel, probably for months with a surveillance camera. The camera had been set up to screen the entrance of the museum, but it could be turned and zoomed to her nearby appartement. This became public when security personell of the museum let boulevard journalists watch Mrs. Merkel’s husband.

http://www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/71316 (German)

(Now the camera has been fixed and the security staff face prosecution by criminal law. I seriously doubt, that ordinary citizens would ever get to know if they are watched, let alone the same level of prosecution would be carried through.)

ceebs April 4, 2006 6:53 AM

The two approaches that I use are

1) “do you as a politician trust the opposition?” if they answer no then the follow up is “why would you trust them with this technology then?”

2) at what point are all government and police offices going to be covered by the same technology, as you are fundamentally changing the balance between citizen and state?

Nathar Leichoz April 14, 2006 7:21 AM

Well, Mr. Policeman. The gap between “wrong” and “illegal” are ever so wide. I may not have to fear about being arrested, but I sure don’t like the idea of people laughing at me behind my bad.

Anonymous April 22, 2006 9:20 PM

We must realize that we are doing this to ourselves. Who operates ALL governments? Regular human beings.

Anonymous June 8, 2006 1:33 PM

“if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

Yeah. Start with the people asking for it.

Do cam surveillance on possible drugdealing childmolesting corrupt cops!

They are not corrupt, you say? There are no child molesters amongst them? They don’t deal with drugs? Then they got nothing to worry about being on cam 24/7!

Sandoval August 17, 2006 2:38 PM

Well apparently ignorance and hysteria is the norm here. I’m amazed how many people immediately morphed it into “cameras in my home”.
First. The cameras are in PUBLIC watching PUBLIC things. Now the fear mongers “oooowww my privacy” take the pacifier out of your mouth, quit crying and understand reality. Unless you suddenly are going to gouge out everyone’s eyes because of “your” privacy, there is NOTHING different with cameras in PUBLIC. Let that sink in a little harder. The word is “PUBLIC” not “private”. I’m sure another reactionary fool will twist this response and claim and push it into “my privacy invasion” again but you better be willing to rip the eyeballs out of everyone who looks at you in public because it is the SAME. Your fear is that you don’t know instantly if someone is looking at you in PUBLIC. Welcome to the real world kids. People will look at you in PUBLIC! My god reading over the fear mongering reactionary responses and outright twists of reality and truth it seems more like children crying in the sandbox that
“Sally touched my toy!” or more closely resembling “Johny looked at me!”
Welcome to reality. PUBLIC has a meaning.

Pat November 21, 2006 8:10 AM

Too many people without a real life spend too much time imagining that ‘big brother’ has the time or the interest to watch them. Cameras in public places are in the public interest just like GPS locators in cell phones and cars are in your interest. Unless you are in some way of interest to ‘big brother’, which none of the people who read this are, they could care less what or where you are doing or going. However should you go missing or have an accident and disappear then ‘big brother’ might actually be able to help you. I would suggest most of the people who complain about cameras and gps locators need to instead focus their attention on observing criminal activity and reporting it to ‘big brother’. With all that energy devoted to doing something worthwhile and of benifit to society we might actual help ‘big brother’ do something about crime.

mike November 25, 2006 4:42 PM

the whole reason for this is the shadow american government want to turn your country into a fascist martial state, they have already decimated your bill of rights brought yous into more illegal wars than i can mention (basically everyone usa has fought ) the bigest losers are the people of america you need to wake up and realise you country is being taken over by the same people who backed the nazis what you do within your own four walls is no bussiness of anyones ecxept yourselves obviously there a small percentage of evil doers in every country but they are usually in government

jane November 28, 2006 8:51 AM

“Because someone could move the goalposts later.
In fact, they often do.”
@GM: an impressive historical example from Germany: the 1920s/1930s jews probably also thought they’re not doing anything wrong, when they registered at their local comunity, which included stating one’s religious denomination. Little did they know to which “good” use the nazies would put that piece of data later..

JANE December 24, 2007 6:59 PM


Richard June 23, 2008 12:08 PM

I am from England. We have surveillance everywhere in England and our local councils check our e mails, mobile phones and life styles. This is not cant but fact. We are being dictated to by communists who call them selves new labour. Do not let yourselves be fooled as we have. Freedom once lost cannot be recovered as Germany found out in the early 40,s. We look up to you in America as being the home of the free.

Mrs. Winston Smith November 15, 2008 1:58 PM


You are living in Orwell’s 1984 and by the looks of it that nightmare is likely to happen here in the U.S. People like Jane, who are becoming increasingly numerous, will be glad to be watched as they urinate, defecate, engage in sex, masturbate, pass gas, and scratch their naughty bits. They will use the excuse, as they smile into the camera while they strain to have their bowel movements, “It’s OK. I have nothing to hide and it’s for the sake of the children! Thank God for Surveillance!” Of course, people like Jane presume that surveillance is always done for benign reasons. Also, others here seem to believe that information is never used to hurt people who are innocent. Surveillance in public spaces undermines the notion that a free society should be free of surveillance and that people living in a free democracy should question whether surveillance is needed in a society that values freedom.

As well, the idea of what is “public” has shrunk considerably. Is a bar or restaurant or social club public? Of course not. I can go into a park or walk or stand on a street without spending money or conducting any “business” in particular. But I cannot go into a bar, restaurant, or even a grocery store or mall and just stand there indefinitely or sit at a table without making a purchase! Yes, I can “browse” in a store or walk around a mall, but at some point I must leave and an employee can always tell me to leave at his or her discretion. If I do not then that is called trespassing and I can be arrested. More and more semi-private spaces are being called public spaces and this is a huge problem.

It’s ironic that the country that is supposed to be the most free is peopled by so many who neither understand nor appreciate the concept of public versus private or even the concept of privacy. There are those who believe what I do in my own home is their business! People who simply do not want to share every aspect of their lives, have every secret exposed, or be held to the judgment and scrutiny of friends, neighbors, family, and strangers are almost automatically accused of wrong-doing.

This is not a nation, unfortunately, of critically-minded people, and I think those who call for increased surveillance will one day far outnumber those like us who want privacy and are willing to take some risks to have it.

David April 17, 2010 1:00 PM

One nation,under serveillance…With wire taps@injustice for all.This country with it’s institutions,belongs to the people who inhabit it.Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing goverment,they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow it.Abraham Lincoln

The Storyteller May 30, 2010 7:23 PM

Yes, there is a crisp answer to that question. And that is: any state that would want to go into your private life that much is a criminal, rogue, state. Who else but basic criminals would want to put surveillance cameras into your home?

Plus, in Eastern Germany they also said that if you didn’t have anything to hide, then you shouldn’t be afraid — so, it was legitimate for the Stasi to recruit 1/3 of the people, to spy on the other 2/3s.
Was the Stasi legitimate? Were concentration camps, political murders, child-snatching from families, good? Whenever the criminal state (it was a state run by criminal gangs, like all of these totalitarian states are) wanted to lean on you, for whatever reason, they already knew everything there was to know about you — was that good?
Was the environment of dissent-crushing paranoia good?
Is there a spin to justify or soften all of this? Any at all?

No, there is not.

That’s why these posts are so cretinous: “oh, our community can not answer that question”.

Sir, I am not a part of your so-called community.

If ‘communities’ and their appointed ‘representatives’ are to be used (and they quite generally are) to be pied pipers for the establishment, then let’s go back to what matters — the thinking individual.

Jeff July 4, 2019 9:36 AM

This of course is a blatant foolish comment, it’s right in your face nonsense. What’s more prevalent though, is people within government leaking information to private groups of associates with social justice motives. So, consider that chi P0l1ce in Ch1ca60 were running their little tort-ure facility. Would anyone be surprised to find they were leaking the location of private citizens because they didn’t like what they posted online or suspected them of crimes? What if every time you went out to enjoy yourself, they used your mobile phone to leak your whereabouts to an off duty person who then showed up at your location? What if they followed you, slandered you, tampered with your vehicle or more? What if your online statements were collected and then distributed to people at work, your neighbors and more? The reason due process exists is to protect people from other people within government as well as others. When police and employers can spy on people in their homes there is absolutely no guarantee they will use the information correctly or secure it in such a way to that such information would ONLY be accessible by the most trustworthy people. This is actually the same issue we have with the collection of internet traffic and voice data.

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