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Chicago Rushes Head First Into ‘Limitless’ Surveillance

March 2, 2009

Source: Tech Dirt

From the but-will-they-be-able-to-spot-political-corruption? dept

Governments around the world are finding reasons to install surveillance cameras, but few are keeping account of the costs and benefits that come from those CCTV systems. Chicago, in its bid to follow in China’s steps as host of the Olympics, is the most recent one to do so. By spending millions of dollars, Chicago aims to have a camera “on every corner” in preparation for the 2016 Summer Games that it hopes to host. But they are doing so without thoughtful implementation or an understanding of the realities of around-the-clock government surveillance.

Under the auspices of fighting crime and preventing terrorism, Chicago’s Police Superintendent Jody Weis is hyping CCTV as having “limitless” crime-fighting potential. The reality, as is evident to anyone who has actually researched this type of thing, is that studies have shown municipal surveillance cameras to have little to no positive effect on crime. Further, London is widely known to have the most extensive CCTV network in the world, but that served as little deterrent to the terrorists of July 2005. But instead of bringing this up, the Sun-Times and Chicago officials point to a test in which “live video was used to catch a petty thief in the act of sticking his hand in a Salvation Army kettle outside Macy’s State Street.” Given the cost in both dollars and civil liberties, it is hard to justify catching petty criminals stealing some coins from charity.

But according to another city official, “civil libertarians have nothing to fear” from the blanket surveillance system because police operating the pan-and-tilt CCTV cameras see only what you would see if you were sitting on a park bench in front of that building.” The difference, of course, is that by extending government power to all facets of public life, you extend the asymmetry of power between citizens and government (especially the corrupt ones for which Illinois is known). Indeed, we have already seen examples of “park bench” type cameras being abused by government.

What Chicago needs is an honest assessment of surveillance and a commitment to real police work, not hyped technology. If they want to follow in China’s footsteps, it would be best to avoid the Big Brother ones.

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