Many of you who are following the discussions about police brutality in the United States are aware of the call for mandatory body cams on police officers. While this alone will probably do little to counter the apparently abysmal quality of police training, which leads so many officers to commit murder with little to no provocation whatsoever, it is generally agreed that body cams would be a good idea, at least to obtain unbiased evidence of exactly what happened during an altercation which results in someone being severely injured or killed. While policemen are on duty and in public they have no expectation of privacy, and thus body cams would not violate their rights in this regard.
However, recent news out of Australia is bringing up the question of surveillance in a different, and potentially far more complicated context. It involves surveillance in elderly homes, where patients are at particular risk of abuse as they are often too frail to fight back, or are unable to communicate what is being done to them to people outside of the facility.
A woman, suspicious of how her father was being treated in his nursing home in Adelaide, installed a hidden camera in his room, and caught this on tape. I warn you, the video contains abuse of an elderly man.
The nurse is, quite clearly, attempting to smother the man in his bed. The statistics mentioned in the video are also startling, claiming that 1 in 20 elderly people in Australia are victims of abuse. This is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed in the country.
However, the proposed solution of mandatory CCTV cameras in nursing homes brings with it far more concerns regarding privacy than any discussion relating to police body cams. In this particular scenario, I’m sure that the woman who managed to record this was very glad she did so, and I expect that the nurse in question was fired and arrested for her behavior. However, the privacy concerns around keeping elderly people in nursing homes under constant surveillance are troubling.
First of all, who would be monitoring these CCTV feeds? If the answer is security personnel within the nursing home itself, it is very likely that cases of abuse will be found and go unreported. Secondly, while the nurses and staff are simply employees who can go home at the end of their shifts, the residents live there. That is their home, and CCTV cameras would be monitoring them in their homes 24/7, which would surely qualify as a violation of privacy. Who wants to spend their last years on this Earth being recorded and monitored every minute of every day, like a rat in a behavioral experiment? Not to mention the fact that those cameras would be picking up medical visits, sponge baths, and a whole lot of other activities that most people would rather not be watched by complete strangers.
Nor is it completely feasible to ask for the consent of those who would be recorded. Some people who live in nursing homes would be competent to give that consent, but many are not. Also, many of these nursing homes have shared rooms, and what if the residents have different opinions on whether or not they should be recorded? Also, why should someone have to choose between completely giving up their privacy and opening themselves up to potential abuse and neglect?
On the other hand, this apparently rampant elder abuse needs to be addressed. I cannot find it in me to fault that woman for secretly recording this footage when she began to suspect her father was being mistreated. Illegal or not, I probably would have done the same thing, because the instinct to protect the people we love will often outweigh our respect for the law in many circumstances, for many people. She clearly felt powerless to address her concerns, and recording him in secret was the only way she could think of to confront the situation.
There is no denying that there should be more accountability and transparency when it comes to the treatment of the elderly in nursing homes, but how does one address this without serious violations of privacy? Right now, I have no way to answer that question. The only thing I can say is, something needs to be done. It is time to give the elderly, as well as the disabled and the mentally ill a voice, to treat them with with respect as human beings, not as disposable burdens on society. It is this mentality towards these groups of people which makes them so vulnerable to abuse in the first place.