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The Dystopian Danger of Police Body Cameras

The Dystopian Danger of Police Body Cameras

Rachel Levinson-Waldman

Police-worn body cameras are the newest darling of criminal justice reform. They are touted as a way to collect evidence for criminal investigations, oversee and expose abusive police practices, and exonerate officers from fabricated charges. While the nation continues to debate how effective these body cameras are for police departments, less attention has been paid to the appearance of body cameras in other public sectors, most recently in our schools.

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Another possibility is that these cameras will be used to pump always on feeds into government monitoring/storage facilities where licence plate/facial recognition and other software will be used to extract information for government databases.

Getting rid of your cell phone/RFID tags and avoiding fixed cams won’t keep you off the grid then.


Unfortunately this is the future. But no privacy will also apply to the police, politicians, teachers and others when their perps, constituents and students also use body cameras.

If body cameras can glean information to obviate the use of police armored vehicles and combat weaponry, I welcome them.


I haven’t resigned myself to change. It is accelerating and change is a constant.

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Cameras everywhere! Never out of sight! Always monitored! What could possibly be problematic about that?

Ever since i was a boy, i’ve been watching this progress. These cameras are one important part of a larger system, and a larger process.

i recall the first time, must be forty years ago, that i walked past someone’s garage, and the light came on from a motion sensor.

i immediately recognized the “camel’s nose in the tent.” i knew that this social and technological development would eventually morph not just into absolute surveillance of everything and everyone all the time… and not only inevitably require massive processing facilities to centralize, sort and analyze all the data… but also inevitably, the system would evolve beyond any conceit of human control.

We are just, just on the cusp, of plugging our “smart” phones directly into our brains. R&D is making big strides in creating neuron / chip interfaces. When i was a boy, and i would talk about the obvious inevitability of such a development, people would not scoff at the technology, but would insist that the social aspect would prevent adoption of brain implants. “No one’s gonna put a plug in MY brain!” is a pretty good representation of the general response in those years.

i would point out that every stage of development of communication technologies from the telegraph through the telephone, cameras, radio, movies, television, etc. had been swiftly adopted and accepted as “normal” by mass consumer society in the “developed” world. Still, people would insist, “No one’s ever gonna put a plug in MY brain!”

Very clearly, in my direct experience talking to people now, four decades later, almost NO ONE ever reacts with that visceral revulsion. Most folks in “advanced” consumer societies are already quite amenable, even intrigued, by the looming development of networked brain implants.

The networked cameras that are multiplying and rapidly spreading everywhere, will be part of the vast new entity that is emerging.

Ultimately i still retain my initial assessment: The vast cybernetic network humans are building, and preparing to plug directly into, will have its own logic, its own prerogative, its own evolutionary drive. The “plugged in” humans will simply be subsumed into it.

One of my e-mail signatures talks about the race between accelerating ecological / civilizational disintegration and collapse, and this socio-technological rush into a new emerging bio-cybernetic network. Both processes, to my mind, are equally disastrous for humans. “Maybe both will happen at the same cosmic instant in a hyperbolic singularity!” is how my signature closes.

But while there is now social and political struggle over the processes and practices that are dis-integrating the ecology, it is pretty much impossible to hold the concept of this emerging networked existence in mind, and hold a conversation about it, let alone develop a set of principles and a campaign of social and political struggle against it. We just rush headlong into it.

It’s great to see groups like the Brennan Center, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, and others raising specific civil liberties concerns about these technologies. i wish we could have the larger conversations.


Oh, come on webwalk. Plug-In-Your-Brain will allow you to turn on your coffee maker with a thought and drive hands free. Forget about clunky wide-screen TV’s and computer monitors. When you’re plugged in your get the highest quality, most immersive32-D experience possible! You can throw away your cell phones. Want to call someone? Use Plug-In-Your Brain!

Don’t be a Luddite! Get Plug-In-Your-Brain TODAY!

Disclaimer: Plug in your brain is not responsible for damage due to interface problem, hacking or plug quality. See your doctor if you have blue-screen/crash issues or if you have the same thought for more than 4 hours.


I want my wetware, because this one’s going rogue! Johnny Mnemonic meets Lawn Mower Man! The war mongers won’t know what hit 'em!
And how does one block those signals from the hacks? Tinfoil hats! Heheheh…


That’s a fair outline of some of the marketing that will take place. No more keyboarding! Well that’s a good thing in itself, as are some other of the specific capabilities. Some of the drivers of brain / chip R&D involve seeking to improve the lives of people who are hearing- or vision-impaired, or have various forms of paralysis. Who could argue with that? There’s just these larger issues that are virtually never considered.

i may be a form of Luddite. While i’ve never smashed a machine, i’ve also never driven a car, and never owned a cell phone let alone a smart phone. My major technologies are this, the third computer i’ve owned (which is a terrible compromise on my part, knowing what i know about resource extraction, exploitation of labor, toxic chemicals, and invasive network technologies), and all my bicycles, drums and guitars.

i’ve often said i wish i were born on a different planet, or at a different time. OTOH, i could hardly imagine more “interesting times” than these. It’s like living in a dystopian sci-fi fantasy novel!


Too little, too late. We must accept that everything we do is known to everyone else – or it should be. And that applies to Massa as well as to us mere ni**ers. I can live with that.

how does the panopticon FEEL? this is a performance art piece on that topic

Why do USAian police need to use armoured vehicles and combat weaponry? Our redcoats finally left the USA 203 years ago, late in 1812!

Andy Taylor didn’t need a body cam, but Barnie Fife did need a shirt pocket.

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I wonder why conservatives didn’t just sell that stuff to some Middle East country? Afraid Islamists could turn around and use it against US? That problem didn’t stop Prescott Bush and other US industrialists from doing business with Hitler. Oligarchy uber alles.

See now that is a ridiculous statement about tin foil hats! It is quite obvious that the photo shows aluminum foil hats. No one says that aluminum foil hats work because they don’t. However tin foil hats made from actual tin foil do work except nobody can buy real tin foil! It’s a conspiracy I tells ya!

Tin foil hats work

Aluminum foil hats do not work.

The cat has my sympathy… you just get the sense that it’s not a republican at least from the look on its face anyway!

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I agree with you on this one webwalk, I guess that makes me a luddite too. As far as wondering why this is happening, I would just say public indifference, mission creep, and the first rule of government- a program once created must be expanded and must be funded on an exponetial scale…

That was good. Funny, yet horrific.

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I agree with the article’s point that body cameras have a negative side. Agents of state violence should not be stationed in schools, since they are the first step in the school-to-prison pipeline.

However, we can reduce the negative side of body cameras with automatic control over when they do and don’t record.

I am not saying that school principals should wear body cameras. If they do, the proper criteria for recording would be different, I suppose. Nonetheless I suggest this is worth thinking about.

I don’t know. I don’t see this as a threat, much. It records personal interactions in the public space. When you talk to the principal you’re already talking to authority. It’s not like you think you’re having a nice private chat and then boom, he puts it up on youtube. You know you’re talking to someone who is taking down everything you say as evidence to be used against you. Now he’s recording it. Not that much of a change. But it also means he can’t solicit bribes or sex from you by using his position of control over you. If he acts unethically toward you, you are protected. He’s recording himself too. And he is protecting himself - if you say “No, I did not put glue on the toilet seat, and if you don’t leave me alone I’m going to say you asked me for sex and put my hand in your pants” then he can say “No, you can’t, because I’m recording everything that happens between us”. An accusation of sexual misconduct can ruin a life and it’s an easy threat or actual accusation to make. If I were a teacher I would prefer to have a camera recording whenever I was alone with a student, just to be on the safe side.

I think that public interactions, where you are dealing with “a cop” or “a mailman” or “a cashier” or “a pastor”, should be the same whether there are other people there or not. It’s a public interaction, and having the camera there just keeps it that way. It’s the same as having other people there, watching. I don’t see that as much of a loss of privacy, relative to the protection that it offers to one party or the other or both.

Surveillance shouldn’t get into your private life. Nobody should be observing you once you disengage from the public zone, but while you’re there, meh, the more cameras the merrier.

I would like to the see the recordings themselves made inaccessible, however, except on court order, and the cameras be without any capacity to link to the web. We don’t want big brother watching us through the constable’s button hole.

I think the technology exists and it won’t be prohibited therefore as a parent I would have welcomed a teacher or principle recording their interactions with my child. What I mean is that public autheority should have to follow the rules whether police or principals. This should be open to the public since they are occuring while a pulic official is being paid doing their job, All police arrests and in fact all police interaction with the public should be recorded as recent events show. While it may make for a on the record society, the alternative is that some people will use these things anyway and I think it better for the public that people in authority be made to answer for their behavior. There will be less aberrant behavior when everyone knows that it will be recorded whether by the authority figure or the person being subjected to that authority. Pretending that technology doesn’t exist is silly. Police have guns and batons and mace and they should be monotored while using these weapons.

Body cameras would reduce the frequency of abuses of authority.

I found a company that makes the military video systems. I believe every police officer should have a body camera to protect the citizens. That way we can all see whats really going on in the public.

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