(from CBSChicago.com) – Blue-light cameras have been strategically placed in high-crime areas [of Chicago] since 2003. As a whole, Chicago Police have praised the initiative, and Mayor Richard M. Daley has said it has helped authorities respond more quickly to crimes and helped make thousands of arrests.
When the program first began, many city residents were also praising the blue-light camera system. However, the main complaint for some was that gangs and criminals had transferred their activity from major streets with cameras to side streets without them.
The system has been called the most extensive and integrated camera network of any U.S. city by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
In the Bucktown neighborhood Tuesday morning, some people still said the cameras are helpful for fighting crime.
“I actually think they keep us safe,” one man said. “So long as no one’s dong anything private in the corner, no one’s invading your privacy. So as long as it’s not in my living room window, it’s OK.”
“There’s no invasion of privacy because it’s obvious that the camera is there,” another man said. “So if everybody knows that the camera is there, why don’t you operate is if the camera is there and don’t do anything illegal.”
But now, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois called for a full review of the cameras – which number at least 10,000 and are at locations from skyscrapers to utility poles – saying city officials won’t release basic information like the exact number, cost and any incidents of misuse.
Those concerns, along with city officials’ plans for expansion, put Chicago a step closer to a Big Brother invasion of privacy, the ACLU alleged.
“Chicago’s camera network invades the freedom to be anonymous in public places, a key aspect of the fundamental American right to be left alone,” the report states. “Each of us then will wonder whether the government is watching and recording us when we walk into a psychiatrist’s office, a reproductive health care center, a political meeting, a theater performance, or a bookstore.”
The network includes private cameras and those installed by city agencies, like the Chicago Transit Authority. While many of the cameras are visible – like those with flashing blue lights affixed to street poles – countless others are unmarked.
City officials have been tight-lipped about how many cameras Chicago has in place, but no one has disputed that there are at least 10,000, including more than 4,000 installed by Chicago Public Schools and at least 1,000 at O’Hare International Airport.
In its report, the ACLU outlined three specific technologies that exceed the powers of ordinary human observation and increase the government’s power to watch the public: zoom, facial recognition capacity and automatic tracking.
“Chicago’s growing camera network is part of an expanding culture of surveillance in America. Combined with other government surveillance technologies, cameras can turn our lives into open books for government scrutiny,” the report says.
“Chicago’s camera network chills and deters lawful expressive activities protected by the First Amendment, like attending a political demonstration in the public way.”
ACLU officials said the city declined to give the group information on the cameras, including a tour of its operation center, statistics on crime and cost estimates. According to the report, surrounding communities have paid hefty sums for cameras; suburban Cicero has 30 cameras which cost $580,000.
The group said that money could be better spent on adding more police officers to Chicago streets, among other things. It added that there has been little research showing the cameras deter crime.
In addition to the moratorium, the agency recommended more public input, regular audits, rules and regulation on who can view the images, public notice before installing a camera and disclosure of any abuse. The report cites cases in other cities where “male camera operators have ogled women.”
Public complaints about the cameras haven’t been widespread and are generally limited to those who get caught for a minor offense or if the cameras fail to record a violent attack.
Authorities say cameras played a prominent role in several high-profile cases. Footage from a city bus camera helped persuade a suspected gang member to plead guilty to shooting a 16-year-old high school student in 2007. Cameras helped police determine that the 2009 death of a school board president was a suicide.
Chicago Police spokeswoman Lt. Maureen Biggane said she had not seen the ACLU report.
“The Chicago Police Department is committed to safeguarding the civil liberties of city residents and visitors alike,” she said in a statement.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from CBS News Chicago. Visit the website at CBSChicago.com.
b) When were the blue-light cameras first placed in high-crime areas of Chicago?
2. Why does Chicago Mayor Richard Daley defend the placement of the cameras?
3. What has been the main complaint made by people who support the placement of the cameras in high-crime neighborhoods?
4. For what reasons does the ACLU oppose the cameras (why are they calling for a moratorium and review of the cameras before any more are installed)? Be specific.
5. What alternate solution to the cameras does the ACLU suggest for fighting crime?
6. Which members of the public generally complain about the cameras?
7. a) Explain the term “Big Brother.”
b) Would you consider this an example of “big brother” government? Explain your answer.
8. When asked about the security cameras, two residents of the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago said the following:
- “I actually think they keep us safe. So long as no one’s dong anything private in the corner, no one’s invading your privacy. So as long as it’s not in my living room window, it’s OK.”
- “There’s no invasion of privacy because it’s obvious that the camera is there,” another man said. “So if everybody knows that the camera is there, why don’t you operate is if the camera is there and don’t do anything illegal.”
The ACLU contends the cameras are an invasion of privacy and states in its report:
- “Chicago’s camera network invades the freedom to be anonymous in public places, a key aspect of the fundamental American right to be left alone. Each of us then will wonder whether the government is watching and recording us when we walk into a psychiatrist’s office, a reproductive health care center, a political meeting, a theater performance, or a bookstore.”
a) With whom do you agree? Explain your answer.
b) Ask a parent the same question.
CHALLENGE QUESTION: The ACLU is a liberal organization. Why might libertarians and conservatives side with the ACLU in its opposition to the cameras?
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