Archive for July, 2007

Privacy rights and surveillance cameras

I’ve been monitoring the growth of closed circuit camera surveillance in downtown Halifax for a few years. It was just something that caught my attention and over 6 years or so this growth has occurred exactly as predicted. I even set up a website. Over this time I’ve been interview numerous times for my opinions and in that process have encountered the same questions, time after time:

  • Why do you care? What are you doing wrong that makes surveillance a problem?
  • If you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear.
  • It’s unreasonable to expect privacy in public.
  • Why are you so paranoid and suspicious?
  • Etc….

Here’s a short response to one of the question posed recently in the Usenet newsgroup hfx.general in relation to an article in the Chronicle Herald about the proliferation of CCTV in downtown Halifax

Q: Just curious. If the police could afford to put a cop on every corner to ensure the public safety would you mind? Is it the being viewed part or the possible recording part of the video camera that bothers you?

A: No I would not want to live in a city where there was a cop on every corner. That would be indicative of either excessive crime or excessive police control. Really, having cops watch your every move would change people’s behaviour. It’s not that folks are breaking laws, it’s just that most adults (and probably kids) don’t like being constantly monitored and observed for compliance. We expect to be presumed capable and mature and honest, and having constant police supervision would be undesireable.

The second part of your question “to ensure public safety” suggested that if there was not a cop on every corner, public safety would be at risk and this situation simply does not exist in Halifax.

Yes there are problem spots. The Commons for instance, around Maynard and North and Agricola, outside some of the late night bars, etc. IMO each should be evaluated and through a public/police/city task force some kind of process should take place to see how the issues can be tackled. As it is there is no oversight, no control, no regulation and no accountability for the placement of either private or police CCTV in public places. None. I consider this wrong.

  • Is there a place for CCTV in public? Yes there probably is.
  • Should the police have complete and total freedom to place as many cameras as they want, wherever they want? No way.

The city will eventually resemble a prison yard. Canadian police forces have been on the receiving end of some heavy criticism for the collection of “intelligence data” on people they considered subverisves, who now in hindsight were/are peaceful social justice activists fight to protect the civil and human rights of honest citizens. Governments can easily lapse into fascist-like mindsets, especially in the face of the type of conservative paranoia evident in the wake of 9/11. People blindly accept the erosion of their privacy rights. It’s a mistake to allow your rights to be eroded without question. The citizens of a country should question governments and demand safeguards to ensure that they stay on the open, fair and accountable process track.

The loss of privacy through police and private CCTV in public spaces is widely acknowledged as a real and measureable loss.

Many authoritative groups and international think-tanks have documented it and have numerous studies and a great deal of documentary evidence to support this notion.

In closing, here’s a quote from Privacy International, “The justification for CCTV is seductive, but the evidence is not convincing. In a report to the Scottish Office on the impact of CCTV, Jason Ditton, Director of the Scottish Centre for Criminology, argued
that the claims of crime reduction are little more than fantasy. “All (evaluations and statistics) we have seen so far are wholly unreliable”, The British Journal of Criminology described the statistics as “….post hoc shoestring efforts by the untrained and self interested practitioner.”



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