Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Downtown Madison on candid camera? More surveillance proposals...

Will bartenders start saying "smile!" instead of "whatcha drinking?"

The discussion continues in downtown Madison, just as it does in communities across the country, about how to keep residents safer. Security cameras are typically brought up as an easy technological solution to safety challenges. But many new ACLU members are joining up because of their concerns about a whole spectrum of increasing surveillance. Examples range from the enormous (telecom's all-too-willingness to hand over sweeping, warrantless access to our phone conversations to the federal government) to the inconspicuous (surveillance cameras aren't just for banks anymore).

Downtown Madison, Inc., an advocacy group that promotes business and urban vitality in the downtown area recently responded to news reports on violence and alcohol-related crime. A part of their plan includes security cameras in area establishments. Businesses can certainly set up their own security cameras, but who is regulating how the cameras and data are used?

Downtown bars and liquor stores are already scanning IDs. One campus area bar is taking pictures of customers when they enter. With the addition of more cameras, patrons need to ask what is happening to their personal ID data, their pictures and videos from surveillance. Is it going to be deleted at the end of an uneventful night or are video clips of dance floors going to end up on a DIY coeds go wild website?

Safety doesn't come from a camera. Both safety and freedom from surveillance only come from responsible actions of patrons and bar owners. Voice your opinion in the article's forum section, in a letter to the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal or the Capitol Times, or to Downtown Madison, Inc.

On a related note, we can also thank the Wisconsin State Senators and Assembly reps who sponsored a joint resolution (PDF) recognizing January 28th as Data Privacy Day. It's nice to have leaders recognize the right to privacy in the face of increasing surveillance, identity theft and data management bungles in both the private and public sectors.