Survivors of the Aurora, Colorado “The Dark Knight Rises” theater shooting have filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Colorado against the theater owner. In two lawsuits filed in federal court on September 21, 2012, the plaintiffs allege that the theater, Cinemark USA negligently failed to provide adequate security. According to the plaintiffs, the theater should have taken more measures to prevent James Holmes from killing twelve people, and wounding fifty-eight others.
Here are some of the measures the theater should have taken, according to the plaintiffs:
Employ and have present security guards (including, but not limited to, off-duty law enforcement officers);
Provide reasonable protection against surreptitious, unauthorized entry into the theater;
Erect door entry security devices, one-way security doors, automatic locking doors, alarms, warning signals;
Develop and institute emergency or first-aid response and evacuation plans and procedures;
Train employees on the use of surveillance devices, monitors, cameras and human monitoring procedures.
There are a number of problems, both practical and philosophical, with the measures the plaintiffs would have the theater (and by extension, all theaters) follow.
First, it would cost a prohibitive amount of money for all American theaters to provide the heightened security as outlined above. Theater owners would have to eat the increased costs or pass the costs down to consumers. Ensuring perfect safety is, by its very nature, expensive.
Second, at what price comes freedom? While some would argue that there is no price too great to pay to save a human life, I think that the increasing use of surveillance cameras poses an unfortunate and in some cases unacceptable threat to our freedom. I don’t exactly know what the balance should be between security and freedom, and for sure, a theater is a public place where one should not have an expectation of privacy. Like many Americans, I became more accepting after 9/11 of public surveillance. After all, what we do in public is by definition not private.
And yet, part of me shivers at the implication of constant and ever-broadening spying on our everyday activities. I imagine that more and more of my life will become recorded somewhere, by someone. As our expectation of privacy erodes, what will replace it? An all powerful government?
Third, will increased security stop a determined mass murderer? Surveillance, awareness and security measures have increased over the past century. So too have acts of private (as opposed to governmentally-sponsored) terrorism. In a free society, sociopaths like James Holmes will find a way to kill innocent people. Is the cost of saving lives worth the cost of depriving us of our expectation of privacy and even of our freedom?
After all, when the state records our every action, it also limits our freedom to act and derails the boundary that protects an individual’s freedom to act unimpeded by state action. And would turning our country into a police state truly deter serial murderers? Or would it merely give control of the weapons to a centralized dictator, who could kill the innocent with the legal sanction of the state?
What are your thoughts? Does increased surveillance curb our freedom, or merely decrease a criminal’s ability to murder innocent people?