Surveillance cameras have increasingly encroached on our daily lives. There are more than 60 CCTV cameras in Melbourne’s CBD alone to help reduce crime. But there is a line. Overzealous use of such technologies, including monitoring people’s movement in suburban parks, crosses that line.
While there may occasionally be an illegal gathering, it would seem well and truly on the margins of making any real difference in containing the virus. And yet, for that extra layer of enforcement, every person must be subject to the anxiety of knowingly having their movement watched and recorded.
And it’s not just these mobile units that should raise concerns. The state government reportedly asked Australia’s Defence Force whether it could use its unmanned military spy aircraft to alert police to people breaking the restrictions. Thankfully, Defence thought better of it and rejected the request. But that has not stopped Victoria Police from using its own drones to monitor people from the skies.
While drones are playing a useful role overseas during the pandemic – delivering medical supplies in remote areas and disinfecting public spaces – to be using them in Victoria for such an extended time to monitor public movement should, at the very least, require a higher degree of oversight and transparency than normal.
There is little doubt that police have a formidable task on their hands enforcing the ever-changing restriction rules. But police need to play their part, as does the government, in ensuring that they maintain public confidence in how they carry out their duties.
The recent arrest and hand-cuffing of a pregnant woman in her Ballarat home was a disturbing overuse of force. And there are almost daily examples of police fining people for breaches that are marginal at best. On Monday, police fined three people almost $5000 for listening to music on an inflatable boat at a lake in Melbourne’s west. Is that breach really proportionate to the penalty?
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During times of crisis, it is essential that the exceptional powers placed in the hands of government and law enforcement agencies are justifiable, proportionate and limited in time. Overstepping the mark will only undermine their credibility and the trust we place in them. And these are very precious commodities at the moment.