Electronic Surveillance of Schools, Regulators, and Police
Some years ago, a friend teaching high school in the Dallas area mentioned many of her students had been victims of abuse at home. I was surprised and asked if she saw bruises or other signs of injury. Oh no, she said, she was referring to verbal abuse. I remember being mystified at the time.
An online search for articles about verbal abuse bring up many on teachers and bus drivers “verbally abusing” students, plus a sarcastic title: “10 Reasons to Send Your Child to School Wearing a Wire” which refers to a Philly.com article, “For Autistic Kids, Tale Of The Tape.” The “10 Reasons…” article is from a public school teacher perspective, and is critical of parents electronic monitoring their children at school.
The Transparent Society approach from earlier posts encourages electronic surveillance of interactions between citizens and government. Businesses record phone calls with customers “for training purposes” but also to have a record of what was said in case there is a later dispute. Retail stores turn to electronic monitoring to watch for shoplifting and also to have a record in case of a later dispute. A customer might slip and fall and sue the store for negligence, claiming the floor was wet. Video of the incident can help resolve such claims.
Companies may want to monitor their own employees dealing with the public or preparing goods later sold to the public. In hospitals, cameras improve doctors compliance with handwashing protocols.
For federal electronic surveillance policy, it seems reasonable to take similar precautions when government officials deal with the public. Many federal agencies now have their own enforcement divisions and swat teams to go after alleged violations of various federal regulations. Students who debated the criminal justice reform topic may be familiar with concerns of state and federal police and regulatory agencies becoming “militarized.”
The San Diego Unified School District’s Search and Rescue was profiled as maybe having more firepower than necessary (though maybe it’s a tough area)? Now they are returning their military “rescue” vehicle.
An article on an Alaska mining raid titled, “Armed EPA raid in Alaska sheds light on 70 fed agencies with armed divisions,” reports:
The other federal agencies participating in the operation were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and the Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Park Service.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Park Service are among 24 federal agencies employing more than 250 full-time armed officers with arrest authority, according the federal report, which is based on the 2008 Census of Federal Law Enforcement Officers.
The other 16 agencies have less than 250 officers and include NOAA as well as the Library of Congress, the Federal Reserve Board and the National Institutes of Health.
The number of federal department with armed personnel climbs to 73 when adding in the 33 offices of inspector general, the government watchdogs for agencies as large as the Postal Service to the Government Printing Office, whose IG has only five full-time officers.
What federal electronic surveillance policy might be appropriate for the: “24 federal agencies employing more than 250 full-time armed officers with arrest authority“? Recording the “interactions” of the dozens of federal police agencies would seem a reasonable for “training purposes” and as a way to monitor appropriate behavior and protection of civil liberties.
Private firms concerned that their employees might behave inappropriately toward customers (or customers toward employees), use now-inexpensive video cameras to record everything, just in case. Hotels often record elevators, hallways, and outside grounds for security reasons, and to protect themselves from possible lawsuits.
All the more reason to record interactions of city, state, and federal police when they interact with citizens. This Slate article, Tape Everything, makes this argument.
Back to the beginning discussion of “verbal abuse of children,” recording school classrooms and school buses is one way to provide similar security precautions. If state or federal governments were begin monitoring classrooms for safety and to review educational practices, many teachers would be upset. But in cases of poor conduct, it is not clear if video and audio of incidents would be available to parents. Also, critics of Common Core argue that new systems including collecting electronic data on students and they move through public or charter schools.
A key argument in The Transparent Society is not just that public spaces should be recorded but that government agencies shouldn’t have monopoly control of the recordings. Every police stop should be recorded not just by the police, but by the person stopped or by a third-party organization. If there is a dispute, and only one side to the dispute has a recording of the incident, that lack of transparency opens the door to abuse.
This presentation to an audience of law school students at a Christian university, is titled “Never, Ever Talk to a Policeman.” It doesn’t discuss electronic surveillance directly, but does discuss the problem of having way too many regulations that put citizens at risk of jail time if they get caught in the legal system. The conservative Right on Crime project addresses the criminalization of modern society.
And this Cato Institute post looks at the problems caused by a rogue federal agent, “Louisiana Man Wins $1.7 Million From EPA For Malicious Prosecution“
A Greenwire dispatch published in the New York Times is at pains to present the Vidrine case (quoting a former enforcement official) an “isolated situation” arising from the actions of a “rogue” agent. As a local paper reported, “Phillips was accused of targeting Vidrine because of his outspokenness and choosing an investigation in Louisiana to be close to a woman with whom he was having a sexual affair.” The second of these motives, at least, presumably doesn’t figure very often in decisions to pursue federal criminal charges.
Cato readers have reason to be less than surprised when federal enforcers abuse their powers, especially at an agency as convinced of its own righteousness as the EPA. Nine years ago, Cato published James V. DeLong’s “Out of Bounds, Out of Control: Regulatory Enforcement at the EPA.” In 2009 congressional testimony, Cato’s Tim Lynch discussed troubling cases like that of Alaska railroad employee Edward Hanousek (“prosecuted under the Clean Water Act even though he was off duty and at home when the accident occurred”).
I don’t know how often such abuses occur. Maybe rarely. But similar abuses in the private sector are rare too, but companies choose electronic surveillance policies that monitor their employees and customers just in case.
Employees at private firms rarely have guns and are not empowered to order customers to put their hand up or get on the ground or go directly to jail. Police and federal regulatory agency police do have this power (if not the right) to threaten and use deadly force. Federal electronic surveillance policy should be 1) to record all interactions with the public and to have recordings stored and monitored by a third-party agency, and 2) to allow citizen to themselves record all interactions with police and other state and federal government agencies.