CA ACLU condemns public surveillance in report

Monday, October 1, 2007

SACRAMENTO, Calif.--The American Civil Liberties Union's California affiliates on Aug. 20 released "Under the Watchful Eye," a report condemning the rapid expansion of public video surveillance systems in California.
The report, written by ACLU correspondents Mark Schlosberg and Nicole Ozer, says that "little consideration is given to the significant evidence demonstrating that camera surveillance is ineffective especially compared with other alternatives." The report further says that public video surveillance is an infringement on the first and fourth amendments: freedom of speech and association and the right to privacy, respectively.
"We really wanted to just get out the information so that individuals and city officials can make really informed decisions," said Ozer in a phone interview. "There are a lot of cities that are considering video surveillance and are starting pilot programs, with little information about if video surveillance is effective and whether or not it's a good solution."
Schlosberg and Ozer surveyed the public records of 131 jurisdictions in California and concluded that, overall, surveillance cameras, some locally funded and some federally, did not improve public safety.
"In San Francisco, we've moved from two cameras to 70 cameras and the only statistics available about the effectiveness of the cameras that the city even had were that crime had gone up in more than half of the areas where the cameras were even put," said Ozer.
The report also predicts that technology advances in surveillance--namely face and retina recognition, 360-degree zooming and sound recording--will allow private and public entities to monitor innocent citizens 24 hours a day, which the ACLU labels an infringement of their right to privacy. The report further says that of California's 18 cities with "significant" public video-surveillance programs currently, only 11 have written policies intended to regulate that use.
The report charges that in this post-9/11 era, public surveillance without regulation may be a vehicle for racial profiling and "suspicionless" targeting. Page eight of the report reads: "As technology advances, individuals must demand that privacy rights are not left behind, and courts must be persuaded to take a more nuanced view of what is meant by a 'reasonable expectation of privacy.'"
Howard Evans is dean of National University's school of engineering and technology, which houses a master's degree program in homeland security and safety engineering and is based in San Diego. He has read the report and feels it raises some legitimate issues, but that some of the report's conclusions--namely recommendation number one, that local governments cease deploying surveillance cameras all together--are somewhat drastic.
"We really do have freedoms that we want to protect," said Evans. "At the same time, I want to be protected from crime and I want to be protected from terrorism.
"Technology is neither good nor bad, it's how we use it," Evans said.
Evans thinks the report will "contribute to broader, additional discussion, which I think is of value. I hope that people who receive reports like this approach it to evaluate their own information and understanding."
And, in many cases, he feels the ACLU is in line with industry thinking: "The principles they talk about--to fully evaluate other crime reduction approaches, to get input from the public--I think that those are just following well-defined principles of how you make decisions. You need to divorce that from emotion."