Thursday, February 16, 2012

Someone To Watch Over Me

(My recommendation is to enjoy the video while reading the post.  Trust me when I say that eventually it will all make sense.)

With  a unanimous vote of its City Council, Toledo becomes yet the latest in a growing number of cities to grow the number of cameras within its confines.  These were not the 11 red light cameras that I've written about before, to be added to 32 of their brethren in an effort once touted to promote traffic safety and not for the purpose of generating revenue. That ship sailed long ago after statistics showed that such cameras usually increase the number of rear end collisions in the intersections they're placed in and Toledo admitted that there was money to be made. But in cities like Toledo across the country that are starved for new sources of revenue in a tough economy, threatened by countless programs that they can't afford and buried under bloated union contracts for their safety workers, little more could be expected of elected officials who seldom consider the law of unintended consequences where their actions are concerned.

No, the vote this week was to purchase a different kind of cameras entirely; or more accurately, 150 of such cameras at a cost of $1.6 million.  In addition to the cameras, the city intends to use 4 members of a police department that many already claim is under-staffed to monitor them.  This program will be instituted (perhaps as a first step) in a technological effort for crime prevention and enforcement in the downtown and/or high crime areas of the Glass City.

Toledo is far from being alone in the installation of such cameras, and in fact might seem to have some way to go in order to compete with its 'Big Brothers' (George Orwell pun intended).  A  Wall Street Journal article from over two years ago points to an estimated 15,000 such cameras, in both public and private ownership, that are linked in Chicago to what the city calls "Operation Virtual Shield".  

New York City has a similar set up, though the last estimate on the number of cameras that I could find is probably woefully out-of date in a NYCLU report from 2006.  The maps contained in this report showing the locations of these cameras blanketing the city in various areas however, should be enough to frighten anyone (perhaps even more than the crime that they are supposed to monitor).  

London however has far and away taken the technological lead in city surveillance however, with estimates according to a British Channel 4 report from back in 2008 that there are 350-500,000 cameras under public or private ownership that are available to the local constabulary to monitor its citizens.

(Cities are notoriously recalcitrant in releasing the actual numbers of such cameras in use.  Go figure.  It seems rather strange not to do so however, if their intent is to, as they often tout, prevent crimes from occurring.) 

No ... make no mistake.  Regardless of the breast beating and dire warnings, this is not about crime prevention.  A camera can no more prevent a crime from happening than it can capture the perpetrator of that crime.  It can only take a picture (often rather poorly lighted and blurry) of the perpetrator in the act of committing it.  While these electronic sentinels may potentially contribute to reduced response times by police to such crimes, no statistics that I was able to uncover were able to document such an advantage.  And while they may make it somewhat easier to eventually track down the suspect and inevitably easier to convict them if they do, it will do nothing to protect citizens from either the crimes themselves or from the potential that the same crimes will be committed in the future.

What it will do however is remind everyone in the Glass City, and others around world that no matter where they are, someone is probably watching.  We're told that if we're not doing anything wrong, we have nothing to worry about, but we were told the same thing when TSA told us that making us safer would only prove a minor inconvenience.  We were told the same when the Patriot Act was passed to aid the good guys in catching the bad ones.

No, the answer here is as simple as it is subtle.  We have nothing to worry about as long as we aren't concerned about a level of government's ability to monitor its citizens without the protection of a legally issued warrant.  We have nothing to worry about as long as we are willing to give up our liberty and rights of privacy to achieve a purported level of safety on a public street. (Can anyone else remember what Benjamin Franklin said about liberty and safety?)  We have nothing to worry about as long as we blindly believe in the altruism of government officials and law enforcement agencies, that such surveillance will not become over time a not-so-subtle form of behavior modification.  We have nothing to worry about unless we're afraid to live with a bunker mentality where everyone is watching over their own shoulders to see who else is watching.

While I chose to entertain you with a rather eclectic Sting rendition of a classic George and Ira Gershwin tune from 1926, it doesn't require me to slip on my tin foil hat to tell you that I'm anything but comforted in knowing that no matter where I am, soon there will undoubtedly be "Someone to Watch Over Me".


1 comment:

Judy said...

Scary and disturbing, but informative!It sure helped to clear the smokey air!!!