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May 4, 2012 at 12:24 PM

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Police drones don't invade privacy

A lot of people have a camera on their cell phone, ready to snap the latest news or fun shots at a moment’s notice. Many news outlets welcome viewer pictures and stories, riding the wave of citizen journalism.

Walking around outside is a public act. Anyone could photograph another person walking by; a tourist taking a shot of the market, a journalist writing a story about crowds, a stranger who likes an outfit or hairstyle. The police aren’t breaching a reasonable expectation of privacy by photographing those out in public.

Seattle’s police department is looking at the use of drones to capture images.

The point of a protest or demonstration is to gather people en masse, to be seen and heard and make that point—thousands of people, strong and clear. Anyone can take a picture of that. If the point is to be seen, heard, and counted, then photographs are not so troublesome.

Some say that police shouldn’t be in the photography business. But this isn’t illegal search and seizure. Police and protestors alike might benefit from having photographs of the event. If they’re merely kept as a record of a rally or protest to use as reference, perhaps evidence if something happens at the event, that’s no crime.

The real concern is what police could potentially do with these photographs. If police search protestor names and faces, that is profiling. But, keep in mind that any private citizen could take a photo and vet it through search engines.

It is a public world and increasingly, a photographed one. Technology has given rise to anonymity and the comfort of hiding behind a curtain to protect some privacy, despite sharing deeply personal and private information. But what technology has given can also be taken away with the click of a camera.

Alicia Halberg is a senior at the University of Washington and the spring editorial intern at The Seattle Times.


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