Surveillance in Criminal Justice

After the invention of surveillance in the 1940’s in Germany, it eventually led to more advanced surveillance opportunities in the U.S. In 1968, the government began installing surveillance cameras along the main streets throughout New York to help control the crime issues. By having this footage, the government could hunt down these criminals by the video quality, have proof of the crimes, and keep these individuals off the streets to help reduce crime. The success of the government started spreading to business owners which convinced business owners in the area to begin purchasing surveillance cameras to prevent crimes from occurring at their businesses. Today, technology is advancing all over the world and with this said, the government has broadened their monitoring from closed-circuit television footage to observing citizens online social media sites.

Citizens are questionable over how far the government goes with using the closed-circuit television surveillance. CCTV surveillance, including the cameras placed on lively locations around the country, eventually led to monitoring society’s social media as well. Do they use it to effectively catch criminals in the act? Or do they also target civilians who are potentially innocent? The Fourth Amendment was formed to protect citizen’s freedom and rights, but the government is in some ways attempting loopholes within it. These laws do protect us from known monitoring7 but there are others we can’t question until they are disclosed (Richards 2013).

Change in Relationship between Government and Citizens. Surveillance is said to be used for criminal reasons, but citizens believe that it is taking away our privacy rights (Bernal 2016). The doubt of effectiveness and violation of human rights has made the relationship between citizens and the government change over the years (Rodata 2013). Today’s world is beginning to track individuals of specific religions and ethnicities due to the ambiguity of it all. Citizens are to the point where they do not argue with the amount of security put toward them on a daily basis but rather accept it so that they can continue with their safe lives (Shenk 2006). The government can track citizens online accounts and information 24/7 since most people have begun communicating in the online world.

After the attack on September 11, 2001, the amount of security drastically changed to help prevent future terrorist attacks in the United States. New laws were formed all over the country, including security checkpoints at airports, schools, etc. The electronics to detect weapons or dangerous individuals check fingerprints, mobile phones and body scans to make sure no one can bring harmful acts into busy areas. The Patriot Act was formed after 9/11 to help monitor Americans through their everyday actions and online activity. This helped prevent any future attacks and figure if any citizens were communicating with other countries. Since most Americans communicate nowadays through emails, social networks, and messaging, it is much easier for the government to track citizens searches. According to American Bar Association, under ECPA (Electronics Communications Private Act), which was written in 1986, it has to show probable cause based on individualized suspicion and obtain a warrant from a court (Shamsi 2011). Along with the government using the internet to track individuals, job opportunities began playing a huge role within social media. Owners and managers now have the opportunity to research potential employees on the web and see what is said about them or what they post on their own accounts.

The new and improved security has been a good change in terms of security for America, however, the amount of surveillance used can interfere with citizen’s personal life a little too much. In bigger cities, such as New York City, the amount of surveillance is highly watched. For example, at Grand Central, around 700,000 citizens are watched everyday boarding and leaving the train station (Shenk 2008). The government uses this to monitor every individual to prevent attacks at the busy facility. They use undercover law enforcement to track explosives, bombs, weapons, etc. in this area to make sure no terrorism attacks take place.

Along with attending busy locations as citizens, going to careers or schools has become much of a similar checkpoint. Citizens have begun to use Identification cards and background-checked guest passes to enter their own workplaces and schools to prevent unwanted people from coming into these locations. To keep up with staff and students at schools, law enforcement runs random sweeps through the halls to check lockers and classrooms to keep out any unwanted items and behaviors in the environment. When entering any school location, there is also surveillance surrounding to campus inside and out to capture any unwanted behavior in the areas.

The government also has access to any citizen’s email accounts and can rummage through them whenever they receive a warrant to do so (Shamsi 2011). If a government official discovers any online activity that is questionable, they may use this against the individual being investigated which could be used in a case. Since humanity relies so much on technology, it makes it easy for the government to track out relationship networking, entertainment, health and anything else that is personal (Bernal 2016). The information we post on social networking is not just available to the government but all of humanity. This makes it easily traceable and also harder for our private lives not to become public. The new ways technology is used has become very attractive to the government because it is so easy to track individuals and know their daily routines (Bernal 2016).


This information brings us to a final question: Is the amount of surveillance used on humanity acceptable? Understanding the Patriot Act made after the 9/11 attack makes it more understandable why surveillance is as used as it is today. In order for this to become more acceptable to citizens, new laws need to be formed in order for the monitoring of people’s communication and private lives overall to be accepted (Shamsi 2011). The updated laws should contain information on how the government is allowed to trace online interactions to eventually get a warrant and look into certain people. The government and citizens need to develop a new relationship to ensure investigations are not ongoing without probable cause so that there is a better understanding (Shamsi 2011).

To make this happen, the American people need to feel trusted by the government and not in fear that they will not go against the Act which could lead to doubt and dislike toward government officials. Overall, citizens should have the right to know and expect when they are going to be monitored in certain situations rather than it be hidden (Shenk 2006). The world should not have to live in fear about everything they say or do secretly and have someone be watching their every move. Surveillance is a good source in some situations when there’s a chance of illegal activity happening but not for individuals who become frightened by the fact that they are being watched on a daily basis without doing anything out of the ordinary. If digging into a person’s past becomes too private and extreme, then this information should not have been investigated in the beginning (Shenk 2006). The government needs to continue to follow the Fourth Amendment and allow protection over citizen’s rights then to make them fear of it every day.