The city of Washington, DC already monitors 4,500 CCTV twenty four hours a day from the DHS Joint All-Hazards Operation Center. It now wants to add thousands more in an attempt to blanket the city with cameras in every location possible. The feeds already include the District’s department of transportation and school system and will soon incorporate private businesses and the Metro system.
By bringing feeds from thousands more cameras to the central watching room through links to cameras at businesses such as banks, corner stores and gas stations, the District is joining other big cities like London, New York and Baltimore that in recent years have turned to cameras to fight crime and terrorism. But critics worry the District’s government might be going too far.
“The D.C. effort to link public and private watching capabilities might be viewed as excessive,” said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University who studies the balance between security and civil liberties. “It would make it hard to find a place in the city where people aren’t being watched by cameras.”
“It sounds like Big Brother to me,” Maryland resident James Dewitt said Wednesday on the streets of downtown Washington, referencing George Orwell’s novel foreseeing a society oppressed by a government that tracks everyone. “We’re heading to ‘1984.’ It’s 2011, but we’re heading to 1984.”
It sounds like Big Brother because it is. With these systems linked and people watching them 24/7 there will be little space left for privacy in Washington.
Homeland security says the centralized camera system is designed to be used to raise “situational awareness” during “developing significant events” like the shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2009 or the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Just like the Holocaust Museum and the Pentagon had cameras, but we’ve seen little of that footage, if any exists at all. How did cameras in those areas do anything significant to help people when the events were occurring?
At-large Councilman Phil Mendelson, who oversees the homeland security agency, still has those concerns. “My concern about these cameras has always been that there’s no evidence they reduce crime,” Mendelson said. “If HSEMA intends to put more staff on to monitor these cameras, it would not be a good use of resources.”
All current studies and evidence point to Mendelson being correct on this issue. There is no evidence that CCTV helps to reduce crime. Instead of wasting time putting people in front of cameras to monitor them, we should be using that money to hire new officers to walk a beat. That would be a better use of resources.
Mendelson added that “although one doesn’t have much of a right of privacy on a Metro platform … it could change when you’re inside a bank, and if HSEMA were looking at a bank statement.” Johnson said the agency is developing regulations to protect civil liberties.
regulations make it illegal for a camera to be focused on literature being carried by someone in a protest. They also prevent footage from being stored for more than 10 days, unless it captured a crime being committed or questionable police action.
We know all three situations will be violated. Once these cameras are in place, someone is going to misuse it and look at people’s bank statements, or worse. It doesn’t matter if it’s illegal to look at literature carried by protesters. Someone will do that. Someone will “accidentally” keep the footage and the footage will disappear when it comes to questionable police action. There are cases where that has already happened. There’s no reason to believe that it won’t happen again.
These cameras are not designed to help reduce crime. They are designed to continue to instill fear in the citizenry. By telling the people that they will be monitored 24/7, whether that happens or not, you create the illusion of security while controlling what the people do. Unfortunately, it is the people who actually follow the law who will be most affected by the addition of CCTV cameras. Those who break the law will continue to find ways to do so. Crime persists while money is wasted.