Don’t Let Bloomberg Scare You Into Wanting More Surveillance

April 24, 2013 | Andy Cush

In a press conference Monday, Mayor Bloomberg said that in the wake of the Boston bombings, our interpretation of the Constitution should change in order to allow for increased surveillance and security. “The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry,” he said. “But we live in a complex world where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”

“We have to understand that in the world going forward, we’re going to have more cameras and that kind of stuff,” he added. “That’s good in some sense, but it’s different from what we are used to.”

Now would be a good time to trot out a time-honored sentiment on the topic from Benjamin Franklin, who wrote this while preparing to speak to the Pennsylvania Assembly 238 years ago: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Wanting more surveillance cameras and “that kind of stuff” is a reasonable knee-jerk reaction to the tragedy from an ordinary citizen. That the Tsarnevs were able to pull off the bombing without being apprehended beforehand is frightening, and the thought that more security cameras may have helped to stop them is a tempting one.

The longtime mayor of a major metropolis and a man with potential presidential ambitions, however, should know better. Michael Bloomberg knows about this NYU study that showed surveillance cameras did almost nothing to deter crime in Stuy Town and Peter Cooper village from 2002 to 2006, and he knows that the cameras that proved the most helpful in the investigation in Boston were privately owned, not operated by law enforcement. And Bloomberg, presiding over a police department that regularly infringes on the rights of innocent people with no direct, discernable effect on violent crime, knows that increased surveillance doesn’t come without consequences.

(Photo: World Bank Photo Collection/Flickr)