Tuesday, December 4, 2007

California Government Surveillance Cameras Thrive Without Safeguards

Do you ever get that feeling you're being watched? Well, if you live in California - and most definitely in the UK - you probably are. One of the growing little privacy violation secrets in the US, particularly California, is the rapid expansion of the governments use of surveillance cameras with next to no safeguards or oversight.

A recent report by the ACLU entitled "Under the Watchful Eye", details this very real, and frightening encroachment on our privacy and civil liberties. But rather than me explain all the findings and suggested reforms, I suggest you read this article by Stella Richardson of the ACLU summarizing some of the report's findings.

She writes:

California cities are moving quickly to install video surveillance cameras on public streets and plazas without regulations, with little or no public debate, and without an evaluation of their effectiveness... public records survey done by the ACLU disclosed that, even though 37 cities have some type of video surveillance program and 10 are considering expansive programs, none has conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the cameras’ effectiveness [full list of cities and their responses].


In the last two years, the federal Department of Homeland Security has made more than $1.4 billion available to cities for anti-terrorism projects. This funding, along with rising homicide rates and aggressive marketing by security companies, has led many cities to approve and install surveillance camera systems.


Surveillance camera programs do not significantly reduce crime in city centers, the report argues. Mark Schlosberg, Police Practices Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California and co-author of the report said, “The use of surveillance cameras, unfortunately, comes at the expense of proven crime reduction measures such as better lighting, foot patrols, and community policing. In this sense, throwing money at video surveillance actually detracts from law enforcement’s efforts to reduce crime.”

The report cites a survey commissioned by the British Home Office, which found that improved lighting led to “a 20 percent average decrease in crime, with reductions in every area of criminal activity including violent crime,” while cameras led only to reductions “no more significant” than in control areas with no cameras. Britain has more than four million cameras operating in more than 500 towns and cities.


Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director and report co-author, raises another serious concern. “The threat of widespread government surveillance only multiplies when cameras are combined with other new technologies.” She cited automated identification software among such technologies. “In this light, video surveillance cameras provide a critical pillar for an emerging government surveillance infrastructure,” Ozer added.

For the ACLU's recommendations, as well as the article in its entirety, click here. From my perspective, allowing anyone, especially government, to have such broad reaching and all encompassing surveillance abilities begs two questions: "How much do you trust those in power to always do the right thing? And more importantly, "How much do you trust anyone that is given such enormous power to keep doing what's right?" The old adage "Absolute power corrupts absolutely" keeps coming to mind.

Oh, and they don't reduce crime either!!

1 comment:

Jeffrey Monheit said...

Surveillance cameras are unconstitutional. It is obvious when reading the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. When looking at the 1st Amendment, it puts "the right of the people to peaceably assemble" into question since being watched and recorded is a hostile approach. Please visit my web site if you feel violated by the proliferation of surveillance cameras outdoors: http://nyc.camerafraud.com