Don't Smile, Government May Be Taking your Picture

Don't Smile, Government May Be Taking your Picture
Posted by FoM on June 04, 1999 at 12:33:38 PT
Source: Vancouver Sun
As various communities experiment with surveillance in public areas, some are sounding an alarm about privacy rights.
Barbara Yaffe Vancouver Sun So much of what we do is regulated by the state. But while it is difficult to live with the awesome power of government, anarchy would surely prevail without it. And so, individuals living under the yoke of the all-powerful state are prepared to tolerate its intrusions as long as they do not become intolerable. Accordingly, Vancouverites will now have to decide if the use of video surveillance in public places is something they will tolerate. The issue arises as police contemplate installing 22 video cameras to assist with law enforcement in the urban war zone that is the Downtown Eastside. The cameras already are deployed in several eastern cities-- Hull, Sudbury and Brockville. Owen Sound thought about it, then rejected the idea because of privacy concerns. Will the use of such cameras soon become commonplace? At what point will public surveillance cause the rest of us to start feeling spooked and uncomfortable? Already, we have photo radar in B.C. and authorities are about to install cameras to nab red-light runners. If government moves to use surveillance in public places with the vigour with which it has come to tax us, by golly, we should be out marching to prevent even one more public eyeball from being installed on city streets. Cameras are a relatively new enforcement instrument and have yet to meet the full test of public scrutiny or to be reined in by legislation. Photo radar opponent Ian Tootill believes Ottawa should introduce a law to regulate public surveillance devices. He says the issue increasingly is a national one because various communities are opting to experiment with surveillance. Tootill has been attempting to meet with his MP, Hedy Fry (Liberal -- Vancouver Centre), to discuss the privacy concerns, but has been unable to connect with her despite many months of trying. Libby Davies (NDP -- Vancouver East), in whose riding the cameras are to be installed, said this week she believes the money could be more wisely spent. She's also concerned "about the long-term implications of introducing security cameras on the streets." Beyond the fact the cameras will make Downtown Eastside streets even less inviting than they are now, their use surely does not make sense in the current context. Consider, the pushers on Hastings Street are not exactly discreet about their pursuit. People do their deals and inject in open view. Whatever the cameras can pick up, police officers can, too -- easily. Making the arrests is not the tough part of the job, by all accounts. The tough part is getting convictions and long sentences for the pushers. And, just as important, providing addiction treatment for the users. Even if the pushers receive harsh sentences, you've got to wonder what prison would do for them beyond increasing their business opportunities. Federal Solicitor-General Lawrence MacAuley has just ordered a review of drug and alcohol programs in the prison system following studies showing extensive use by inmates. Incredibly, thousands of inmates are using cocaine, heroin or marijuana daily! With respect to the drug users, what will the police department lenses do for them? The $400,000 cost of the surveillance devices would be better spent, as Davies suggests, on treatment services. Victoria only now is increasing detox beds for youth. B.C. will fund 75 treatment beds to add to the paltry 42 we have now across B.C. Again, because of lack of funds, the Downtown Eastside Youth Activity Society was able to serve only 248 drug-addicted youths in an eight-month period last year, despite receiving 2,500 requests for help. Further, if drug dealers and users get camera shy, all they will do is mosey over to another part of town. What will police do then? Move the cameras? This is what happened in the early 1990s in Tacoma, Wash., one of the first North American jurisdictions to use the cameras. The crime-ridden area of Hilltop in Tacoma became more civil after the cameras were installed, but police reported the bad guys had scampered into other neighbourhoods. A case can be made that the cameras will help authorities in a limited way in dealing with crime in specific areas. But there are so many arguments against their use that B.C. should resist further initiatives involving disembodied surveillance. At the very least, the community should first experiment with pilot projects. And that only after government legislates limitations and rules governing public surveillance. It is premature to endorse a plan for the Downtown Eastside that looks to be both half-baked and dangerously invasive. Barbara Yaffe's column appears Tuesdays through Fridays. byaffe pacpress.southam.caComments about this article? Send mail to Barbara Yaffe.
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Comment #3 posted by lookinside on July 15, 2001 at 13:25:04 PT:
i like that idea! what are the cops gonna do? arrest oraccost everyone that chooses privacy? is there a dress codelaw that extends beyond the prohibition of publicnudity(which i consider unconstitutional, even if it doessave us some sights that may induce nightmares)? this may bean idea whose time has come...a visible and legal form ofcivil disobedience...
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Comment #2 posted by Jean on July 15, 2001 at 11:09:33 PT:
Protect Your Privacy: Be a Trendsetter
So how do we counter police cameras on the street corners?Well, a good way to demonstrate that we don't like it is to buy a few cheap Zorro type masks and wear one whenever you enter a suspicious area (like the Superbowl). People will look, so it's a good way to drop a dime on Big Brother. You might even want to carry along a spare or two to give away.Of course you'll also attract the attention of the po-lice, so be sure you're not carrying anything that might get you arrested, but that's the first thing that crossed your paranoid mind, anyway. Just remember that paranoids have enemies too, and paranoia is a useful state of mind to keep you bust-free. Who knows? Fashion goes 'round and 'round. Maybe masks in public will catch on like they did in the 16th century. Until then you'll have a great conversation piece that might even get you laid if you have a good enough "principles of privacy" rap but are a bit on the ugly side.If a substantial number of people wear masks all sorts of crime will also become easier, negating the usefulness of all that expensive po-lice technology. Try it. It's fun.
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Comment #1 posted by Will on July 12, 2000 at 16:29:01 PT
Why do you worry about cameras? They are modified to keep you safe. From bullys. From dope. From killers. Let them put cameras in the nice places and the places we want safe. Others can go into the dark streeets.
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