Sunday, September 10, 2006

Smile: Cameras are Watching Everywhere

City officials in Indianapolis will soon be installing in their downtown what has already been in operation in downtown Edinburgh for a number of years. Those who walk through downtown Edinburgh are monitored by a series of video cameras with a monitoring device in the police station.

The Town of Edinburgh is getting ready to upgrade its monitoring system just as Indianapolis plans to install its first set of security cameras.

The new system to be installed by year’s end in downtown Indianapolis is being funded by a grant of $1 million in federal homeland security money. The tiny cameras will point to street corners, sidewalks, and sports venues. Some of them will even be portable so that they can be taken to where they are needed most.

Cameras of this type were instrumental in helping to solve the London subway bombings. And they have been installed in other large cities in the U.S. over the past few years, some of them with software that can pick faces out of crowds that are on police databases.

There are still some groups who consider it a violation of privacy, especially if faces are compared to a database. But the benefits far outweigh any risks to personal privacy. If a person is walking a public sidewalk or attending a public event, that person has no expectation of privacy anyway. Privacy violations would only come into play if a government entity had cameras trained on private homes. And that isn’t happening, nor would it happen without a court order.

Private businesses have employed security cameras for decades, but more recently, they are everywhere. Once upon a time, only banks had old-fashioned film cameras installed over their doors. They were bulky things.

Now, minuscule cameras are hidden behind tinted domes in department stores or behind mirrored glass at ATMs. In some cities, cameras are mounted on streetlight posts at intersections so that they can snap a picture of cars that run red lights.

Even private homes now have security cameras that they can buy at places like Wal-Mart for less than $100. Two of them guard my house; one is out front trained on my porch and the other is out back looking at my garage.

The terrorism consultant hired by the City of Indianapolis says that the city’s new camera system will not only get a bird’s-eye view of potential terrorists, but will catch people engaged in petty crimes as well. And with the violent crime rate hitting a high this summer in the capital city, it is about time a high-tech solution was put into play to help prevent it in the future.

The images can also be streamed over the Internet, so that law enforcement agencies that have an interest can monitor the situation from anyplace.

It might elicit shades of George Orwell’s “1984,” but there is a big difference. Government officials aren’t interested in whether anyone is complying with directives from Big Brother while in the privacy of their own homes, but in the scofflaws that make the rest of us uneasy when we go out at night.

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