Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Say Hi to your big brother for me...

An article from the fine gentlemen at CrimProf Blog:

Public officials in Bellwood, IL, a village of 21,000 residents covering 3.5 square miles in Greater Chicago, have decided to join the growing list of cities using surveillance cameras to deter crime. Only Bellwood is taking their initiatives one step further. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, within two years, officials plan for Bellwood to be the first town in Illinois (and quite possibly the first in the entire country) "to have every public thoroughfare, sidewalk and alley under the watchful digitized eye of the Bellwood Police Department...[In response to criticism from the ACLU,] Bellwood's mayor said he welcomed the suggestion that his town might be considered something akin to a Big Brother-land. 'I wish we could create that image. I would love that,' Mayor Frank Pasquale said with a chuckle. Although village officials say their town is
not unsafe, and in fact crime has dropped in the last two years, they are aiming for a crime-free future. 'Let this be a warning to our criminals,' Pasquale said. 'Be aware. We have you covered. So go elsewhere.'

The cameras, which police will monitor at the department's call center and can access through laptops in their cars, are the latest technology. They're wireless and sound-activated. Any excessive noise prompts the cameras to tilt and point toward the sound, enabling the department to hone in on a crime even as it is happening. The images are beamed to the department and the laptops through highly encrypted Internet servers and can be downloaded to compact discs to be used as evidence. High-ranking department officials eventually will be able to access the cameras via hand-held PDAs.

In a demonstration Wednesday, a camera set on a lamppost in the Bellwood Police Department parking lot was able to zoom in on the license plate of a car parked about five blocks away. When a gun was fired into the air, the camera took less than one second to shift toward the sound and zoom in on the demonstrator. 'We can look for chain-link fences rattling, gunshots obviously, car alarms, burglar alarms,' said Steve Daugherty, president of Current Technologies, the Naperville-based company that built and will install the cameras for Bellwood. 'Any sound that's discernible, we can
find it, sense it and point a camera at it.'

I, for one, welcome our new camera overlords. Here's the deal with security versus privacy: the public streets belong to the public corporately. They aren't my streets or your streets, they are our streets. Because we have a collective claim, it is more important to focus on the safety of the public than on it's privacy. We all have individual privacy in our homes. If we want to do something private, we can do it within our home. Out in public, however, the need for safety and security is more important.

Personally, living in a Big Brother community would be right up my alley. I don't do weird or criminal things out in public, thus, I'm not ashamed to be watched by the local police. There's nothing I do that I need privacy for on a public street.

I wonder about how people who have never been victimized differ from those who have been victimized when it comes to privacy vs. security. Personally, I've never been the victim of anything other than ridicule, but I don't want to ever have to be one. Out in public, privacy is a luxury that we unfortunately cannot easily afford anymore. There are a lot of sick people out there looking to victimize the weak. The strong among us could perhaps afford a little more privacy in public, but we ought to be looking out for the week. Honestly, who needs privacy out on a public street? What good is it? What would you do with it? What's your compelling interest?

That having been said, if they wanted to install a camera in my bedroom, I would be rather upset about that.


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