Chicago presents the latest point in the ongoing debate about privacy in our technologically advanced world. The New York Times reported in an article yesterday that the city has tied surveillance cameras into its 911 network. According to the article, police dispatchers would have a video of a caller’s location sent to them within seconds of receiving an emergency call. The high-tech wizardry that sounds like it’s right out of a James Bond novel has privacy watchdogs once again calling foul.
Groups like the ACLU and the Center for Digital Democracy have been working at holding back the tide of what they see as a increasing invasion of personal privacy in our highly connected world. Google’s Street View has raised concerns on both sides of the Atlantic because it puts photos of millions of locations around the world on it’s Google Maps application. A couple in Pittsburgh just lost their suit to have the images removed and a town in Minnesota claimed the company ignored “Private Property” signs and demanded images be removed (although how an entire town can claim it is private property, I have no idea). The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California has reported numerous complaints about Google drivers using private roads to obtain images for the service.
It’s not just private citizens up in arms about the Google service. In March of 2008, the Pentagon had to contact the company to have it remove a number of images taken of military bases. The images not only showed the exact location of the bases, but the location of guards, entry points, etc.
Google isn’t just stopping with two dimensional images. The company has reported that it’s Street View team has been assembling 3D information for a future project.
England began it’s history with closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) when London implimented the devices for public surveillance during a visit by the Thai Royal Family in 1960. Camera installation was localized until 1985, when the coastal city of Bournemouth installed a street-based video surveillance system. Newcastle installed a city wide system in 1992 and by 1996, all but one of England’s major cities had full scale systems. There are over one and half million cameras in city centers throughout England.
The cameras were installed to help curb violence, but have they proven effective? Not really, according to a study recently completed by Scotland Yard. According to a Guardian article on the subject, only 3% of crimes were solved by the multi-billion dollar system. Steve Swain served for years with the London Metropolitan Police and its counter-terror operations before leaving for a job with Control Risk, an international security firm. He says any cities thinking of using the cameras to stop crimes before they are committed should save their money. “I don’t know of a single incident where CCTV has actually been used to spot, apprehend or detain offenders in the act,” he said.
Cities like Chicago and New York should take all of this into consideration before installing cameras that cost taxpayers billions while invading their rights to privacy.