By Reid DiRenzo
The fourth amendment in the U.S. Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. With increases in technology, however, this line is often blurred. The question of how the government and society should approach issues on protecting individual privacy doesn’t have a simple answer.
“The public’s got to get engaged in this conversation because from a law enforcement standpoint if people are not engaged and it’s driven by politicians and a sense of apathy in the community it may become too late,” said UConn Police Chief and former law student Barbara O’Connor.
The recent events in Ferguson and the revelation of NSA spying by Edward Snowden have brought the issue of protecting citizen’s right to privacy to the public attention.
“Unfortunately one of the good things that may come out of Ferguson no matter how you look at it is there’s this debate and this dialogue about modern policing and community policing and the importance of citizen police relations,” said David McGuire, a Staff Attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.
O’Connor and McGuire met Wednesday evening at an on open forum held at UConn.
O’Connor said the UConn police department use various tools to help ensure the safety of the public such as GPS tracking to track people, video monitoring at intersections and locations that are known to be dangerous and cameras in police vehicles.
“The university just passed a security camera policy. When I got here we didn’t have one so people think well how to do you analyze that argument is it a bad thing or a good thing and quite frankly I see it as a good thing,” O’Connor said.
The security policy is used to regulate the use of cameras. One key element: signs must be hung in places where there are cameras to inform students and faculty they are being filmed.
“I don’t believe in active monitoring of cameras. We have passive monitoring of cameras and we will engage in active monitoring of cameras if an incident occurs,” O’Connor said.
This means that students aren’t being watched 24/7 by the UConn police. The video tapes are only viewed when there is a 911 call or reported incident.
Even when law officials implement policies regarding privacy, there is still an issue about storing that private information, which at times can end up in the wrong hands. This comes as a concern for the American Civil Liberties Union, especially with the decreasing costs of storing data.
“The problem is when you collection all these different pieces of evidence off of data. It puts a very rich picture of what this person is like and where they go,” McGuire said.
O’Connor said the university only keeps camera records for 30 days if no illegal activity has been reported, and McGuire finds comfort in this.
“The fact that they have some sort of limit on retention of automated license plate reader data is very encouraging. I look forward to finding out how long they keep that data. Those automatic purges of the security system is also a very positive thing because that prevents an officer from overriding that data longer than necessary,” McGuire said.
President of the ACLU chapter at UConn Domenica Ghanem says she was satisfied with the answers O’Connor gave concerning privacy.
“It’s funny privacy isn’t really something I thought about as much as other civil liberty issues on this campus, but after hearing the chief talk about her policies. I do feel comfortable especially because she has a background in law and seems really conscious of civil liberties at least regarding privacy,” Ghanem said.
Featured Photo Credit: Peter Morenus