EDITORIAL: Surveillance should be handled carefully
Potential for misuse raises ethical questions
After the past couple months, during which Rutgers students have been bombarded with multiple startling crime alerts, the University evidently felt compelled to enact more aggressive anti-crime measures.
Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) Chief of Police Kenneth Cop announced a new surveillance initiative involving bountiful amounts of video cameras, according to The Daily Targum.
“Cameras are very effective in catching criminals in the act and also effective in getting good descriptions of vehicles leaving the scene,” he said, according to the Targum. “Typically when one of those crime alerts goes out we get a direction of flight, a basic of where and when and a basic vehicle description. Through these cameras which have some high-end software we're able to get good descriptions of those vehicles.”
The initiative shown by our campus police force is promising. The Cook and Douglass campuses, where the additional cameras will be implemented, are poorly lit in many spots, and implementing higher security measures could potentially go a long way in deterring crime.
The issue, in this case, is that the measures chosen present both ethical and practical questions.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated that cameras only have marginal effectiveness when used in the United Kingdom.
Even in a scenario where the cameras were highly effective — Cop did mention that they have already solved 19 crimes — ethical questions could and should still be raised.
The bare substance of the issue is enough to evoke a plethora of questions. Where, exactly, will these cameras be situated? Did students consent in some way to these heightened measures? Do they even need our approval before instituting these measures?
The act of being watched is unnerving by itself. In certain situations, such as crowded football stadiums or high foot trafficked places like New York’s Times Square, it is easier to accept surveillance as a necessary infringement to protect from violent crime.
Paralleling that to Rutgers, it can be accepted that cameras may be a requirement at places like the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus and Scott Hall bus stops, where thousands of people traverse each day.
In less prominent areas, those cameras are nothing more than an intrusive invasion of privacy.
Additionally, the crimes that these cameras would likely deter the most are also the least concerning ones. Cop never specified what those 19 crimes were, but it is hard to shake the feeling that they were not all violent.
Drug usage and purchasing is an undeniable factor in this, as uncomfortable as that may be to state explicitly. Rutgers had 337 drug arrests in 2017, which was a massive increase from the 172 arrests made in 2016, according to the Targum.
Should these cameras be used to continue that upward trend, it would simply be yet another waste of money that does nothing more than unnecessarily punish people for archaic laws.
Enforcing laws that, in all likelihood, are about to find themselves defunct, seems disingenuous from the accepting, progressive community that Rutgers boasts itself as. The arrests of low-level drug users are not going to help anything, aside from perpetuating a vicious cycle of incarceration.
In terms of maintaining the image of the University, the announcement is quite timely. The Targum reported on a sexual assault that occurred on Livingston campus on Oct. 20.
“The suspect allegedly entered an unsecured residence hall room located in Quad 2 and made unwanted sexual contact with a sleeping resident,” according to the Targum.
The new camera system would not have helped in this scenario. Residence halls rightfully do not have cameras installed in bedrooms, as that would be an incredible invasion of privacy.
The issues that allowed this assault to occur are the ones the University should be focusing on repairing. For instance, while there is no information regarding whether the door to Quad 2 was broken or propped open, there are residence halls on campus with entrances that fail to lock.
Even in halls that do lock, the doors are often propped open by cavalier students. Cracking down on the easily bypassed entrance locks would be a far more constructive project than slapping a camera everywhere out of irrational fear.
The Busch, Cook and Douglass campuses are all poorly lit in certain areas. Increasing the lighting in these dim sections would also be a deterrent to crime, or at least a viable method to provide the general sense of security without constantly watching students.
Nobody wants to live in a state of total security. As a nation, we dealt with major fallout due to the Patriot Act, which was enacted to amp up national security after 9/11. While safety is of the utmost importance, there has to be a point where measures are taken to assure that safety becomes more intruding than crime itself.
If Rutgers is serious about solving the crimes that matter, rather than petty crimes used to collect fines and fees, it should focus more on increasing building security and campus lighting, not increased surveillance.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.
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