Posts Tagged ‘cameras’

You’ll probably recall that the judge’s opinion in the recent stop and frisk case in New York mandates that the New York Police Department (NYPD) launch pilot programs testing body worn video (BWV) cameras in some NYPD precincts, including some of those with the largest numbers of stops and frisks.  (Here’s a link to that part of the opinion.) Mayor Michael Bloomberg decried this aspect of the judge’s order (along with the rest of it) — an odd position for a public official who has always been a very strong advocate of more cameras for public safety (see here and here).

In the weeks since, interest in BWV systems has increased greatly, even outside of the U.S.  For example,  the German television network, ARD (described to me by a person who has lived in Germany as “a German PBS, but about the size of CBS or NBC”), brought me to New York last week to interview me after finding my 2010 article on BWV, “Picture This: Body Worn Video Devices (“Head Cams”) as Tools for Ensuring Fourth Amendment Compliance by Police” in the Texas Tech Law Review.   The interview (conducted in English, since I don’t speak German) was quite thorough; I was then shown various publicly available videos of police/citizen encounters — some taken with BWV, others taken by members of the public — and asked for my reaction.  The correspondent and the producers explained that they had brought in law enforcement experts to interview, too.  The story has not yet aired, but I will post a link to it when it does (for those who speak German).   Stay tuned.

And there is more effort to get at the real evidence of how BWV systems perform: what they do for the police, for police accountability, and for the criminal justice system.  Two weeks ago, the Police Executives Research Forum (PERF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that describes itself as  “a police research organization and a provider of management services, technical assistance, and executive-level education to support law enforcement agencies,” hosted a conference for law enforcement on BWV to explore the issues it raises for police.  Here’s a link to one of the conference documents.

And then, something very useful.  There have been various pilot studies already conducted by police and the Home Office in the U.K.; my Texas Tech article contains links to this research.  But now, an American police department that has tried BWV has been the subject of a comprehensive, rigorous study.  It’s a very promising and positive look at the potential of BWV.  I’ll explain in my next post on the subject.

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Yesterday’s article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that residents at several Pittsburgh intersections are unknowing participants in an experiment on mass surveillance.  “Cameras Record License Plates in a Snap” revealed that at several intersections, police had mounted high-speed camera systems that took images of the license plates of every car that passes through, and retains those images for up to five months.

These very capable systems will give a wealth of data to police, and will instantaneously make various checks on every vehicle.  According to the article:

The devices snap photos of every passing car, “read” their license plates and log them in a searchable database.  The system is also equipped to run every passing plate with national, state and local “hot lists,” compilations of cars wanted by authorities because they’ve been stolen or associated with crimes or missing persons. The federal database, called the National Crime Information Center, also includes license plates associated with suspected terrorists.

The camera systems are funded through the Port Security Grant Program.  This strikes me as odd, because the main camera post featured in the article is just a mile or two from where I live, and I can tell you for sure that there is no port there to secure.

The article quotes skeptics, such as attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, who express privacy concerns about retention of and access to months worth of data on the activities of law-abiding citizens.   But the law enforcement people quoted in the article are almost all big believers.  And the mayor of nearby Braddock, Pennsylvania, was unequivocal.  The only rights that matter is “the right not to get shot.”  The small chance that the system could be abused by police or others “is infinitesimal  compared with the public safety and the public good.”

I agree that there is a place for surveillance technology like this, but I want to see proper consideration given to equally valid concerns like privacy and the right not to be tracked everywhere we go.  If regulations on the proper use and retention of these images is too much to ask, we ought to take another path.  Forgive me, but I’m not satisfied when my government officials give me assurances that it won’t be abused, and if I’m not doing anything wrong, it shouldn’t be a problem.