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Caught on video: How much is too much?

POSTED August 20, 2013 9:32 p.m.

 

 

Face it. You are Jim Carrey and you are the star of “The Truman Show.”
Nothing in your life is too mundane to go virile. Brushing your teeth? That’s 20 hits. Slipping on ice and falling on your rump? Get 1,958 hits. Try to get out of a bathroom you’ve been locked into via the window but losing your underwear in the process? That’s probably 25,897 hits. Have your life taken by some crazed man knifing you on a public street means you’ve made the Internet’s promised land. It’s easily 1,908,987 hits and counting.
This is the day of Google Earth. Your backyard can be seen in Bangladesh. Forget security cameras. People with cell phones are capturing your every move in public. There are even mini lapel videos being used that provide a live feed back to computers that capture everything the wearer sees as they go about their day.
It’s against this background that San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White has sparked a controversy about just how much is enough video.
Haynes-White said the department’s ban on video cameras put in place in 2009 also includes helmet-mounted devices.
This clarification comes after Battalion Chief Mark Johnson’s helmet cam captured footage of a San Francisco fire truck rolling over 16-year-old Ye Menh Yaun. She was laying on the tarmac covered with fire-retardant foam and was killed. It was following the Asiana Airlines crash on July 6 at San Francisco International Airport. Images from the helmet cam video ended up in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Haynes-White said the ban was supposed to include emergency scenes. Critics say all the fire chief is trying to do is limit the department’s liability.
Let’s not confuse liability and privacy, as if that was ever a worry of government.
Laws are explicit in protecting responders — including to a degree agencies — for deaths and injuries that happen in the execution of their duties, if protocol is followed. No one has found any evidence on the video that the fire department acted negligently. It was a madhouse at the crash scene. A jury would be hard to persuade in such a situation. As for stopping legal claims or even a lawsuit, videos aren’t needed for people to sue.
The video apparently sheds some light on what happened.
It should be noted that law enforcement agencies such as the San Jose Police report a significant drop-off in citizen complaints about police conduct after issuing uniform mounted cameras. It is even helping short-circuit lawsuits against police in a number of cities since the cameras tend to back up police officers’ version of events. There are some who also believe it helps keep some officers that might be tempted to cross the line in check.
Of course, none of this explains why New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg —  the self-anointed nanny for Americans — is against the idea of uniform video cameras for police officers in the Big Apple after a judge irked at their stop-and-frisk procedures ordered the city to implement their use. Only the guilty have something to hide, especially in the YouTube era.
Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion sees uniform cameras as a way to keep things on an even keel and reduce citizen complaints and therefore make police more efficient since less time is wrapped up in “we said, they said” legal entanglements. It also keeps police conduct as an open book.
The Manteca City Council has approved the purchase of uniform video cameras for officers during the current budget year.
Helmet cameras for fire personnel could have some use as well, especially for training and critiquing to fine tune emergency responses. 
All of this begs the question as to where the proverbial line is drawn in the silicon chip?
Is government videotaping OK in the execution of all lawful duties or does it apply just to those in public spaces especially when it concerns responses to medical emergency and fires? Does someone have the right to privacy when they are being triaged in their home by emergency personnel?
Medical privacy laws already have taken on the characteristics of Swiss cheese. It is why some doctors are refusing to participate in reimbursement of federal fees due to the Affordable Health Care Law requirement that all, and not just pertinent medical information, on patients must be made available to other physicians and medical-related personnel.
Then there is the National Security Administration’s vacuum approach to data.
If you assume anything you do in this day and age is private, guess again.
We are all on the verge of becoming “Trumans.”
And that should scare you back to Walden’s Pond.
Once “Truman” knew he was being watched he started watching himself.
Carrey’s movie was presented as a comedy with a happy ending. But in reality it was about large forces with the implicit consent of government controlling a person’s life and every movement. Once you realize you are being watched you become paranoid and start watching every word you utter even if it is in your own house.
That is why the debate about firefighters wearing video cameras is pointless.
The bigger debate needs to be about the limits of government and big business intrusion into our lives without our knowledge or constitutional authority.
And, unlike claims of Congress and the Obama administration, there is a difference between legal and constitutional authority. One is simply a law passed and signed and the other has passed the muster of check and balance review in the full light of day via mechanisms put in place by the Founding Fathers.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

 

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