It’s great to see the downtown areas in Winston-Salem and Greensboro teeming with life and both cultural and commercial diversity. The energy among crowds along the sidewalk and in the din of conversation in shops and restaurants is unmistakable.
With so much investment from both the city and the private sector it’s easy to understand the recent push for increased security in the core downtown areas of both cities. Greensboro’s city council considered, and then tabled, a proposal recently to install surveillance cameras in that city’s downtown.
The Winston-Salem Public Safety Committee, however, passed a measure that will make downtown surveillance a reality once the full city council approves the plan.
Police Chief Barry Rountree presented the plan on Monday, by citing the concentration of major events downtown and the fact that the cameras would be in public places where a person has no expectation of privacy.
That’s a fine rationale, but we urge strict measures regarding who can access the cameras and what they are ultimately used for. It was only last year that a Greensboro activist discovered via a public records request that unauthorized city employees were accessing security cameras deployed across the city.
Liberty and privacy are the cornerstone of the American experience. Too often in the post-9/11 environment we seem to be sacrificing liberty for a notion of security at an all too alarming rate.
If we continue this rush to both a state of surveillance within a militarized domestic police environment, security will be enhanced, but the notion of liberty and freedom will surely be diminished.
As we see in Greensboro with the police department’s continued denial of access to police body camera videos, this notion of security also comes with a heightened sense of secrecy on the part of the government agencies entrusted with the surveillance power.
It’s a slippery slope indeed and one that an engaged citizenry needs to be most committed to guarding against.
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