Thursday, August 14, 2008

Smile! You're On Candid Camera!

The City of Milwaukee is joining with five surrounding counties to purchase a network of portable video surveillance cameras for monitoring crowds at large public events.

It's too bad it's come to this. But, I think many will agree, this is a good thing. Heck, I'd go so far as to say I wouldn't mind seeing my tax dollars going to this sort of thing.

Perhaps from a percentage stand point, the numbers don't warrant this. Anecdotally, however, there are lots of problems at many festivals. Particularly street festivals.

The American Civil Liberties Union fears that police officers will use the technology to violate the privacy of law-abiding festival-goers.

Hmm. You're out in public with hundreds of other festival goers . . . where's the privacy issue? If you want privacy for something, go home!

One model under consideration has a wireless camera that is mounted on a trailer and elevates above the crowd once the trailer is moved into place. Police can operate the camera and monitor live action from remote locations, saving any captured images on laptop computers.

I'm sure we're heading toward a Demolition Man kind of future where cameras will eventually be everywhere. But, the portability aspect of this system makes a lot of sense. First, you can run the system where it's needed most. Second, it saves on the cost of needing many permanently mounted systems.

“It’s very, very rapid deployment,” said William Stolte, emergency management coordinator for Waukesha County. “You can set it up, take it down and move to the next event.”

In that sense, the portable devices are more advanced than fixed security cameras that have been installed on street corners and other trouble spots in some Milwaukee neighborhoods.

Officials hope to have the new mobile surveillance systems ready before the start of the outdoor festival season next spring.

Of course, there are always those who look to the worst case scenario:

Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU in Wisconsin, called it overly intrusive to use anti-terrorism money to monitor local festival crowds.

Noting that the portability of the new cameras could make them easier to abuse, Ahmuty said he worries that police officers will ogle women or snoop on political activists.

“Just because you’re in a public place doesn’t mean that your privacy is completely gone,” he said.

Overly intrusive? Police are generally placed at festivals anyway.

Ogle women? What if they're women cops?

Uh, and yes. When you're in a public place your privacy is pretty much gone. There's no law anywhere that says I can't stop and look at what someone is doing in a public place. It might be rude, but there's no law against it.

Like the extra security at the airport, this doesn't bother me. I have nothing to hide so they can look all they want. I've read about festival incidents all too often this year. We can't just increase the police presence. That would be way too costly. While video won't prevent all violence from occurring, it can help with identifying those who instigate violence. I think it will have a net effect of reducing crime at festivals.

The whole article is here.

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