Chicago Moving to 'Smart' Surveillance CamerasYou may have noticed that that the local ACLU outlet seems to be taking it rather calmly. Must be they trust Democrats more than Republicans. Not that they should, they just do.
By STEPHEN KINZER
Published: September 21, 2004
CHICAGO, Sept. 20 - A highly advanced system of video surveillance that Chicago officials plan to install by 2006 will make people here some of the most closely observed in the world. Mayor Richard M. Daley [a Democrat] says it will also make them much safer....
Police specialists here can already monitor live footage from about 2,000 surveillance cameras around the city, so the addition of 250 cameras under the mayor's new plan is not a great jump. The way these cameras will be used, however, is an extraordinary technological leap.
Sophisticated new computer programs will immediately alert the police whenever anyone viewed by any of the cameras placed at buildings and other structures considered terrorist targets wanders aimlessly in circles, lingers outside a public building, pulls a car onto the shoulder of a highway, or leaves a package and walks away from it. Images of those people will be highlighted in color at the city's central monitoring station, allowing dispatchers to send police officers to the scene immediately....
Many cities have installed large numbers of surveillance cameras along streets and near important buildings, but as the number of these cameras has grown, it has become impossible to monitor all of them. The software that will be central to Chicago's surveillance system is designed to direct specialists to screens that show anything unusual happening....
When the system is in place,...video images will be instantly available to dispatchers at the city's 911 emergency center, which receives about 18,000 calls each day. 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's.
A spokesman for the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Edwin C. Yohnka, said the new system was "really a huge expansion of the city's surveillance program."
"With the aggressive way these types of surveillance equipment are being marketed and implemented," Mr. Yohnka said, "it really does raise questions about what kind of society do we ultimately want, and how intrusive we want law enforcement officials to be in all of our lives."...
One community organizer who works in a high-crime neighborhood, Ernest R. Jenkins, chairman of the West Side Association for Community Action, said the 2,000 cameras now in place had reduced crime and were "having an impact, no if's, and's or but's about it." Nonetheless, Mr. Jenkins said, some people in Chicago believed the city was trying to "infiltrate people's privacy in the name of terrorist attacks."
"I just personally think that it's an invasion of people's privacy," Mr. Jenkins said of the new video surveillance project. "A large increase in the utilization of these cameras would oversaturate the market."
City officials counter that the cameras will monitor only public spaces. Rather than curb the system's future expansion, they have raised the possibility of placing cameras in commuter and rapid transit cars and on the city's street-sweeping vehicles.
"We're not inside your home or your business," Mayor Daley said. "The city owns the sidewalks. We own the streets and we own the alleys."
I'm inclined to give Mayor Daley the benefit of the doubt. Not that I think that his surveillance system will do that much good. It sort of defeats the purpose to publicize it. But as long as it only monitors public places, I'm not going to get all excited about it.