Remember that movie that was released about 5 years ago? The one with Shia LaBeouf in it where he and the other character were hounded the entire time by a mysterious stranger watching their every move with security cameras that were around the city? Well, this movie could very well become a reality in some cities today, specifically Chicago.
When it comes to cameras, the Windy City is chalk full of them. There are traffic cameras, blue-light cameras that scan neighborhoods for crime, cameras on city trains and buses and even private security cameras, meaning there are very few places you can go in Chicago without being caught on some type of surveillance.
With over 24,000 security cameras in Chicago it can truly be said that Big Brother is watching. With such a vast network of cameras, concerns over privacy are becoming more and more prevalent. According to Ed Yohnko of the American Civil Liberties Union, “It’s really a ‘mission creep’ in terms of what those cameras were designed to do.”
The basic rule of cameras is that people are free to record anything they like in public because there is no expectation of privacy. However, things get a little more complicated than that, especially with traffic cameras. At one point in the city there were 348 traffic cameras. These cameras were billed to the public as a means of catching speeders and people running red lights. In a recent development, two-thirds of these cameras will be updated with 360-degree swivel lenses so that they can monitor everything within sight of the intersection.
This new development is what prompted the ACLU to raise privacy concerns. “They were implemented and sold to the public on the basis of the fact that they were going to be used for traffic safety,” Yohnko added. “But what this new technology permits is for these cameras to now be integrated into the massive surveillance system the city of Chicago already has. So, the cameras can be switched from being traffic safety devices to being a broader surveillance system.”
At a recent press conference, Chicago Rahm Emanuel discussed briefly his encounter with the traffic cameras and how quickly they became a public problem for him. His motorcade was caught speeding and running red lights 17 times by the cameras. “Let me say this — as soon as I saw that or heard about it I said look, follow the law, nobody’s above the law, slow down, period, non-stop.”
City leaders are looking to the cameras in an attempt to get gang and other violence under control. On two separate occasions, shootings in the troubled neighborhoods of Chicago have outpaced one an hour since the warmer weather has hit. The ACLU, however, has declared that security cameras in these neighborhoods have not decreased crime but simply moved it out of sight of the cameras.
In addition to that, the traffic cameras have not decreased the number of traffic accidents either, according to Northwestern University’s Director of Transportation Programs Roy Lucke. The silver lining is that the severity of the injuries has decreased as people, according to Lucke, are aware of the cameras and less likely to speed through red lights. “So, if you cut down on the number of violators there’s still some good. Obviously we’re reducing the serious injury and possibly even fatal crashes with those cameras.”
Even though there is clearly a need for the cameras and a positive result from the cameras already installed, the ACLU isn’t entirely convinced. What’s missing, as far as the ACLU is concerned, is a set of guidelines that establish boundaries for the cameras, like a politician not using the cameras to track an opponent or an employee using them to track an ex-spouse. In addition, the ACLU wants the guidelines to be made public.
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