David Brooks Suddenly Cares About Privacy When Cops Wear Cameras

Videotaping the police? A grave incursion on our privacy. Scooping up data on hundreds of millions? Bo-ring!


New York Times columnist David Brooks has a piece today bemoaning "The Lost Language of Privacy." Has the anti-anti-authoritarian socio-pundit finally come around to the view that allowing the government to secretly rifle through all your digital data is antithetical to any usable definition of the word "privacy"? Nah—he's just feeling antsy about putting cameras on cops:

I've been surprised by how many people don't see the downside to this policy. Most people don't even seem to recognize the damage these cameras will do both to police­-civilian relations and to privacy. As the debate has unfolded, it's become clear that more and more people have lost even the language of privacy, and an understanding of why privacy is important.

Thus starts a five-paragraph disquisition on the importance of privacy. Some sentences therein:

Privacy is important to the development of full individuals because there has to be an interior zone within each person that other people don't see.

There has to be a zone where half­-formed thoughts and delicate emotions can grow and evolve, without being exposed to the harsh glare of public judgment. There has to be a place where you can be free to develop ideas and convictions away from the pressure to conform. There has to be a spot where you are only yourself and can define yourself. […]

There has to be a boundary between us and them. Within that boundary, you look out for each other? you rally to support each other? you cut each other some slack? you share fierce common loyalties. […]

Cop­cams chip away at that. The cameras will undermine communal bonds. Putting a camera on someone is a sign that you don't trust him, or he doesn't trust you.

Fun fact: Brooks is in favor of cop-cams.

So how did the Times columnist apply these righteous and well-articulated principles to the 2013 revelations (care of Edward Snowden) that the National Security Agency is all up in our private business? By calling Snowden a "traitor," saying "I don't think it's particularly intrusive….And so I don't regard this as a crime against our civil liberties," and celebrating poll results showing that "we'd like to see our privacy invaded to make us safer."

Ah, but Brooks did defend privacy back in June 2013. Against Edward Snowden. I kid you not:

He betrayed the privacy of us all.

For a serious attempt at working through the privacy considerations of police cameras, read Ronald Bailey's "Watched Cops Are Polite Cops" from August 2013. For an interview with an ex-cop who agrees with that sentiment, watch the Reason TV video below:

Reason on David Brooks here.