Town Outsources Video Camera Surveillance To Resident Volunteers?

from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept

Talk about a bad idea in action. We've seen plenty of stories about the growing "surveillance" society that we live in these days -- with cc cameras showing up pretty much everywhere in large cities. But who watches the cameras? Well, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, apparently the answer is anyone who volunteers to do so. First, the city decided to install a ton of cameras -- more than either San Francisco or Boston, despite a massive difference in size. Then, recognizing how difficult it is to monitor everything, the city turned over the managing of the cameras to a private entity who is employing an army of volunteers to not just watch, but control the cameras, and having them "report" any suspicious activities. The article notes that studies have shown such cameras may be limited in their effectiveness (there's no evidence of a decrease in violent crime from them, but some evidence of a decrease in "property" crime).

Still what's really bizarre is allowing unpaid volunteers to man the cameras -- with even the officials from the city admitting that training for the camera operators has been "informal," but that they try to "weed out voyeurs and anyone who might use the tapes for blackmail or other illegal activity." Well, phew. Doesn't that make you feel more comfortable? And then there's this lovely quote from a local business owner who likes the program: "There's nothing wrong with instilling fear." Er... actually, there are lots of things wrong with it...

This actually reminds me a bit of Jay Walker's (of Priceline fame) old idea of allowing individuals at home to monitor secure locations via video streams to their desktop. The idea there was quite a bit different though. It wasn't to watch over people wandering around a downtown area, but to put the cameras on secure areas where no one should ever be -- and the idea was that multiple people would all have the same boring screens up at the same time, and if suddenly someone did show up, hopefully people would notice it and hit the "someone's there" button, to alert security. That idea didn't go very far, but at least it was limited to areas where there weren't any privacy issues. The Lancaster plan, on the other hand, is just scary.

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  1. icon
    Sneeje (profile), 23 Jun 2009 @ 5:55am


    I'm afraid I don't really buy into the FUD here. I agree that it is very likely a wasted effort, but not sure what the concern is.

    Mike has made the point himself a number of times that the technology isn't to blame--so the issue must be elsewhere. Yes, you might be less aware of being monitored, but you should have no expectation of privacy or not being monitored in a public place.

    As for the volunteers (or any individuals) potentially abusing the system? I would have a problem if this is allowing abuse that could not occur otherwise, but it isn't--I can spy on people or film people in public places using other means and I can do so in ways that would make it difficult or impossible for those being monitored to know. If the issue is that it is too easy, then we are back to the Facebook facilitates child predation analogy.

    In other words, I think the fallacy here is that the abuse is created by this approach. If someone wants to spy on someone or blackmail them because of something they observed, they could do it with or with out the cameras.

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