On April 3rd, The Union Leader published an article explaining that the Manchester Police Department “…is installing surveillance cameras that will capture much of the activity on Elm Street in downtown Manchester…” Though New Hampshire has consistently been extremely safe and extremely anti-government-spying, this policy will be implemented, starting with the State’s largest city. The first cameras would be on Elm Street, right in middle of the downtown shopping area. From there, the program could expand in every direction.
Residents of Manchester are concerned that the installation of cameras is a violation of privacy, and some have raised the concern that this plan has been implemented without public input, legislation, and without a vote. Furthermore, New Hampshire is a Dillon’s Rule state, meaning that “…towns and cities are not allowed to add to their authority or reduce their responsibilities unless the legislature permits it.”
The Supreme Court of New Hampshire has long held that cities and states are beholden to the rules required by the state, saying: “…towns are but subdivisions of the State and have only the powers the State grants to them.” Piper v. Meredith, 110 N.H. 291 (1970).
It appears the Manchester Police violated this rule, as the State has not passed a bill specifically allowing the Manchester Police to install these cameras. In fact, even the Manchester City Council has not held any sort of meeting, vote, or town hall to help determine whether the residents even want these cameras to spy on them.
Perhaps the most interesting and disturbing part of the new policy is the justification. The Union Leader reported that “…the presence of homeless people and panhandlers on downtown sidewalks.” is the primary reason given by police as a justification of the new surveillance cameras. By the police department’s own admission, these cameras are not meant to stop violent crime or prevent violence, they are a mechanism for spying on peaceful citizens.
These cameras would not be the first time video surveillance has been utilized by the Manchester government. The Union Leader and other sources report that other temporary and permanent cameras have been installed throughout Manchester which stream to the MPD station and record constantly.
This new communist-style surveillance program should face another hurdle: The New Hampshire Constitution. A few months ago, 81% of voters supported an amendment to the State Constitution, which simply added this sentence to the State’s Supreme Legal Document:
“An individual’s right to live free from governmental intrusion in private or personal information is natural, essential, and inherent.”
I consider perpetual live streaming/recording of my face and my body by the police to be ‘governmental intrusion. And I am an individual. Therefore, the program violates the new amendment to the New Hampshire Constitution.
This surveillance program would also violate the 4th amendment to the US Constitution, which states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,[a] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Despite being in public and not having an expectation of general privacy, judges with integrity would admit that people walking in public do have an expectation to not be recorded and investigated by police for doing nothing wrong.
In Katz v. United States, for instance, the Supreme Court ruled that people talking on the phone in public phone booths have a reasonable expectation that their calls are private, and law enforcement spying on those conversations are therefore illegal. Similarly, shoppers walking on Elm Street might expect to be seen by the naked eye while at the same time not expect (or consent to) being spied on by cameras which would record, stream, and investigate them without probable cause.
A group of around 30 concerned citizens gathered with signs in front of Manchester City Hall on Tuesday despite the rain and snow and waited for the Aldermen to arrive to see their disapproval. Their home-made signs expressed displeasure towards the ever-increasing surveillance and militarization of the Manchester Police. A few of the signs referenced George Orwell’s dystopian – yet prophetic – book ‘1984’ in which the government becomes totalitarian, communist, and spies on every citizen perpetually.
Some pro-government authoritarians and communists argue that “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” to justify ever-increasing surveillance against the ‘libertarians’ who value their privacy. The law disagrees with the authoritarian claims and instead maintains that people have a natural right to privacy and to live their lives unmolested by the government (the NH Constitution just acknowledged this right and 81% of voters supported the measure) It is ironic that these intrusive cameras would be installed by the police department. Police officers in New Hampshire have consistently fought against laws that would require them to have body cameras or other forms of keeping tabs on them while they work. By their logic, if they had nothing to hide – if they aren’t corrupt – they would not mind being watched. This is an unreasonable double standard.
The authoritarian police in New Hampshire have made it clear that they thoroughly reject the will of the people and the right of the individual to live without being spied on constantly and for no reason.
Individuals in New Hampshire who do not support increasing amounts of government spying – and inevitably NYC and Communist China levels of surveillance – must unequivocally reject this program at the outset. We have seen surveillance programs in NYC and throughout the US proliferate from ‘just a few temporary cameras’ to thousands of permanent cameras over the past few years. New Hampshire police recently implemented another surveillance program, which the Liberty Block has written about a number of times. If the current trend continues, we will soon live in a State similar to the one prophesied by Orwell decades ago. If you want to live in a community with constant government spying, consider moving to NYC or China.