NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 22, 2005

The number of surveillance cameras is increasing, proving to be a valuable method of protection by helping police catch criminals as well as protecting against terrorism, says USA Today.

Many cities are using cameras to watch streets, parks and other public places:

  • New Orleans installed more than 200 wireless digital cameras in housing projects, cruise terminals and the French Quarter.
  • Baltimore is installing a $2 million network of more than 90 surveillance cameras in the Inner Harbor tourist area and high-crime neighborhoods.
  • Chicago is adding 250 cameras in high-crime areas and plans to link the 2,000 that monitor public housing, the transit system and public buildings, so their feeds can be watched at the city's emergency operations center; the cameras will be able to hear gunshots and aim at the sound.
  • Los Angeles has installed anti-crime video cameras in three neighborhoods, paid for by local businesses and the Motion Picture Association of America, which wants to thwart street sales of bootleg DVDs.

Additionally, some of these cities are receiving federal grants:

  • The Department of Homeland Security will give $800 million to 50 cities, on top of more than $1 billion available in state homeland security grants.
  • Federal anti-terrorism funds cover $2.5 million of the $6 million cost of new cameras in New Orleans; only half of the cameras are entirely or partly for anti-terrorism purposes.
  • Chicago received $34 million for its surveillance.

Even though the number of police-run surveillance cameras is small, privacy advocates claim that since they are government run, the threat to civil liberties is great. Civil libertarians agree, adding that although private videos are only seen after a crime is committed, public ones are viewed at all times. Nevertheless, fear of terrorism will encourage more surveillance.

Source: Martha T. Moore, "Cities opening more video surveillance eyes," USA Today, July 18, 2005.

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