The Price of Security: Boston Renews Privacy Debate

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WASHINGTON -- The Boston Marathon bombings didn't just affect the city, they've revived terror fears across the United States, impacting political debates from national security to immigration.
    
But it's also sparked questions about privacy as America slips closer to a surveillance society.

After cameras captured the chaotic scene at the Boston Marathon finish line, the city's police chief said he wants more cameras to help law enforcement keep watch on possible high value target areas downtown.
    
A collection of video feeds - both public and private -- and even cell phone images helped police identify their suspects.
    
Now other cities, in an attempt to prevent possible attacks, may want to follow suit. But privacy advocates caution against a rush to set up more cameras in cities across the country.

"Preventing crimes is not something that camera systems have shown to be particularly useful for," Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington, D.C., said.

EPIC keeps a watchful eye on those who are monitoring Washington's vast network of cameras. While Rotenberg believes the technology can be useful, he says it's also limited.

"Look at study after study and the lesson that you take away is that cameras can be helpful after the fact. But they rarely prevent crimes, and they certainly didn't in Boston," he said.
    
Meanwhile, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, has other concerns.

"Technology is a fantastic instrument to fight crime," the Texas lawmaker said. "But the danger is that everyone gets monitored all the time."
    
He's worried the expansion of surveillance could lead to government overreach, with big brother capable of knowing what virtually everyone's been doing.

"We're close to that now," Gohmert warned. "They have the capability of going out and finding out what you purchased or what websites you go to or what emails you send."
    
Government overreach is an even greater concern with the use of unmanned drones flying over U.S. airspace.

"Drone surveillance raises issues that are similar to the camera surveillance in cities," Rotenberg noted. "This is another useful technology; it has public benefit, but this should not become a type of surveillance of all activity that people engage, and that would be going too far."
    
Meanwhile, the advent of newer technologies will continue to spark concerns about privacy. And in a post-9/11 world, the tradeoff between feeling secure and maintaining one's privacy will be debated for years to come.

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