The Citizens Association of Georgetown has taken the neighborhood watch digital. While it’s hard to say where the line between privacy and protection should be drawn, placing this sensitive police function in the hands of our neighbors seems like an abuse of power waiting to happen.

CAG announced in August that it would install security cameras in undisclosed locations around the neighborhood. While the organization argues that the cameras will serve only as a means to review crime scenes after the fact, one can’t help but feel uncomfortable knowing that untrained and unsupervised citizens have cast an invisible eye over the community.

There’s much debate and legal scrutiny over police efforts to curtail criminal activity, from the stop-and-frisk program in New York City to Patriot Act wiretaps. While many have argued that these practices are invasive, at least government actions are theoretically accountable to internal and external oversight. The supervision of CAG camera footage, on the other hand, remains ambiguous, if not nonexistent.

Public areas are, of course, just that: public. But being in public does not mean that one surrenders all of his rights to privacy. CAG members are welcome to stare with binoculars at passersby all day — if they don’t already. Still, that is certainly distinguishable from posting cameras in public places. The CAG security cameras may be legal and supported by the Metropolitan Police Department, but that doesn’t make them any less unsettling.

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