Privacy vs. Security – A Panel Discussion

The Bastiat Society hosted three speakers last night to discuss the current state of privacy, and the future implications of drawing the line between what’s ours and what’s theirs.

It was an interesting balance of perspectives. You had the Assistant Chief of Police Reggie Burgess, concerned with the local challenges of body cameras and cellphone tracking. Professor Matthew Zommer, who considers the repercussions of information acquisition in the context of national and international security. And attorney Susan Dunn – legal director for the ACLU – who focuses on national issues at more of a state level.

The panelists dove deep into the heavily sensationalized debate over wearable police cameras. Reggie spoke to how he as a police officer wants to wear them. He wants the reassurance that when something goes down, he’s got the proof he needs. But once the video exists, it’s out there. The media can get their hands on it. People start seeing things once hidden behind caution tape. What are the side effects of that?

Susan extended his thought by explaining that the issue isn’t with the effectiveness of those cameras, but with the lack of standardized rules and protocols. The questions of who gets to see it – and when – haven’t been answered. We’re putting this hardware in place because it’s current, but the rules haven’t caught up. Reggie wrapped up the topic in the best way he could have: “We’re going to always get what we always got,” alluding to the fact that if police departments don’t adapt, they’ll fall behind.

Next up was the Snowden discussion. Matthew emphasized how important it is to have a big, national, legal spotlight on the topic. He called it an OJ-sized debate, and it’s the only way that these revelations can be brought forth in a way that both addresses policy and classifies Snowden’s actions as either a patriot or a traitor. And I agree with him. Politics aside, the discussion is currently only going as far as news anchors – and what has that ever accomplished?

Dr. Zommer went on to explain that we think of this as an American issue, but it’s absolutely a global one. The citizen unrest and these questionable governmental practices are in every nation. Europeans have dealt with CCTV for years, where every citizen is recorded a dozen times a day or more, and it’s become commonplace for them.

When asked if Snowden was a patriot, Zommer replied that if Edward comes back to America and sparks that great debate, he’ll be in history books. If he stays in Russia, he could end up being nothing more than a footnote. Personally, I’d say he’s already started the discussion, and I’m not sure putting his neck on the line really adds to spotlighting the issue of privacy. In fact, I’d say it would likely distract us from it as we watch the courts decide Snowden’s fate.

The Q&A was the only disappointing part – my burning questions about national security and the responsibility of big data companies were thwarted by the older crowd’s concerns of traffic cameras and airport security. Oh well.

It was interesting to hear the different layers (local, national, international) chime in on topics of privacy that, if you think about it, tend to have a domino effect. An unfortunate police officer shooting turns into a body cam discussion turns into a privacy discussion turns into a data policy discussion turns into a national security concern. We’re in the earliest stages of finding those answers, and one must wonder if policy changes are truly the solutions. Policies are just words, after all, like any other law that can be broken.