Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Too Many Cameras on Madison's State Street?

On January 1st, the Wisconsin State Journal published an article on the success of the use of surveillance cameras on State Street in downtown Madison. The ACLU of Wisconsin expressed an initial concern with the cameras, mostly because of the ubiquity of surveillance and the need for continued vigilance on the potential for abuse of surveillance tools. The spread of the use of surveillance cameras downtown was suggested for local business too.

Since then, police say that cameras have greatly helped with fighting crime (no percentage decrease in crime was noted in the article, but a murder that got a lot of press was mentioned to have been solved). We commented on the article in an interview yesterday with WORT FM’s In Our Backyard:

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It’s true that surveillance cameras can be excellent tools in identifying perpetrators who break laws. But there are also reports from across the nation (and in the UK where CCTV surveillance is huge) about the abuse and misuse of cameras. If someone used a panable, zoomable surveillance camera to spy without cause or warrant into one of the residential apartments along State St., how would residents know they were being watched? Ideally Madisonians trust police and business owners to do the right thing. But our community needs more assurance that surveillance cameras aren’t at risk for abuse.

And while we are talking about privacy and technology, is anyone else freaked out about the full body scans they are putting in airport security checkpoints? Travelers on the news are being quoted as saying that they would welcome scanners to feel safe on airplanes, but at what point will smart terrorists find a way to get explosives past even this technology? Where will American’s breaking point be where humiliation at the airport is too much to consider giving up privacy as the price of safety?