Monday, October 8, 2007

Surveillance violates privacy, ACLU says

Are Americans trading in the Bill of Rights for a bill of goods? In examining the actions being taken in city after city, the apparent answer is yes. You don't have to look too hard or travel very far to find a surveillance camera near you. The Contra Costa Times reports on our emerging surveillance society, one largely accepted, and even supported by the public, all in the name of "keeping us safe".

An ACLU study on the proliferation of video surveillance systems in California is cited in the aticle, as is recent evidence coming out of London - which has 10,000 crime-fighting CCTV cameras (at the cost of £200 million) - casting doubt on their ability to help solve crimes. In fact:

"A comparison of the number of cameras in each London borough with the proportion of crimes solved there found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any."

More from the Contra Costa Times piece:

Cities and counties, taking a cue -- and billions of dollars -- from the federal government, are buying into the idea that more surveillance translates into safer communities and a more secure nation, the group said.

And it's happening under the noses of a largely acquiescent public, said Barbara Zerbe Macnab, chairwoman of the ACLU's Berkeley-Albany-Richmond-Kensington chapter.

"There is no public outrage," she said. "That's what frightens me most."


The panelists also warned that untold numbers of private surveillance cameras, such as those in stores, shopping mall parking lots and office building lobbies, complement the public agency-owned cameras because companies routinely make recordings available to police.


Ozer said security cameras can make immediate suspects out of people engaged in innocent acts such as sitting on a stoop chatting with friends on a hot summer night, driving around the block in business districts looking for a parking space, picking up a spouse from work or taking a photo of a tall building as a tourism memento.

At some point we're going to really need, as a society, to reflect on just what personal privacy entails, how it fits into our concept of the constitution, and whether giving up this privacy is really outweighed by the proclaimed security benefits these cameras provide? At this point, the answer is clear...we are giving up a whole lot of what it means to live in a free country for a "security mirage" supplied by Big Brother.

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