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Home > Blog > You're on Candid (Zoom) Camera
Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, September 21, 2004 2:14 PM
You're on Candid (Zoom) Camera
Anita Sharpe on Culture

It seems we're nearing the day when we'll have no private lives outside our homes.

Chicago is set to become (in 2006) one of the first U.S. cities to have video surveillance cameras that automatically alert the police to any suspicious activity (loitering around buildings or leaving packages unattended, etc.) 'Dispatchers will be able to tilt or zoom the cameras, some of which magnify images up to 400 times, in order to watch suspicious people and follow them from one camera's range to another,' according to a story in today's New York Times.

For some reason, this doesn't trouble me the way I sort of think it should. Rather than an invasion of privacy, it seems more like a virtual 'neighborhood watch' program. Aren't the bad guys going to think twice about stealing a car, molesting a child or blowing up a building if they know the cops stand ready to instantly nab them?

And from a philosophical standpoint, are we really entitled to privacy in public? On the other hand, the concept is totally Orwellian. I'm still mulling this one over. . .


7 comments

Alex - 9/24/2004 9:07:52 AM
Sounds like Vegas.
I say go for it. Nobody is really ensured privacy outside of their home anyway.
Ian - 9/23/2004 4:50:31 PM
We've had security cameras in many towns and cities for some time in the UK and on the face of it they do appear to cut down on crime, but this is often because those intent on criminal activity perform their crimes in other areas of the town not covered by the cameras.
It has the effect of spreading the crime out over a wider area which of course makes it more difficult to police.
Ian - 9/23/2004 4:49:48 PM
We've had security cameras in many towns and cities for some time in the UK and on the face of it they do appear to cut down on crime, but this is often because those intent on criminal activity perform their crimes in other areas of the town not covered by the cameras.
It has the effect of spreading the crime out over a wider area which of course makes it more difficult to police.
Elizabeth Albrycht - 9/22/2004 5:54:47 AM
I've written about surveillance technologies and power before, as it is a topic that interests me greatly. Here's the gist (I wrote this about school surveillance, but it works more generally as well):

1) If only administrators will be able to 'see' what happens this is bad. This 'seeing' exercises a tremendous power over the people being viewed. As such, I think it represents a nightmare, as this power can so easily be abused.

2) But, what if we turned this assumption inside out? What if the watched could 'see' what is happening too? For example, parents could see where their daughter is in school. Best friends could locate each other. In this transparent system (a la David Brin), paternalistic/hierarchical power is not the primary force. It is a technology as benefit, not technology as system of control.

3) I can live with the second case -- especially if it is broadened to include all of the monitoring that happens in society. If I can watch the watchers, I won't feel powerless. The first case scares the hell out of me. And the reason given of 'security' is not one I buy. It is only security if I trust the overseers will do the right thing. And, sadly, I don't. The system is too ripe for abuse.
Bill Seitz - 9/21/2004 5:43:04 PM
Do the front steps of your building count as public or private?

Can the cameras see through windows?

Since City Hall is a public place, will there be a camera in the mayor's office?

If you *pretend* to do something wrong on camera and the cops come running, can they arrest you for acting?
Matt - 9/21/2004 4:11:40 PM
IANAL, but I think the courts (includeing the US Supreme Court) have held that you don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place.

I think it's one thing if they use it for active monitoring with a short holding period for criminal investigations). It's when they start the long-term archival and after-the-fact data mining that I get a little skittish.
Peter - 9/21/2004 2:22:22 PM
Yes, its good and its bad. I wonder how many lawyers will Subpoena the feed /digidata for just about any purpose !!

Welcome to another round 'gotca' on tape and cognize Al a Carte !!!

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