Stamford to focus on surveillance cameras

[...] From Holyoke to metropolitan centers such as New York and Los Angeles, more cities are turning to "eye in the sky" technologies to help understaffed police departments monitor crime and push criminals out of neighborhoods. The cameras, which often resemble street lights on poles or buildings, can rotate 360 degrees, withstand a .357-caliber bullet and scan three city blocks to zoom in on a license plate.

In Stamford, a public hearing tomorrow could help decide whether residents are camera-ready. The city now has 16 closed-circuit television cameras that monitor traffic only and don't record images. To allow public surveillance, a 1999 ordinance must be changed by the Board of Representatives. Law enforcement and city officials nationwide say video surveillance helps fight crime and watches potential terrorist targets. But opponents say the technology creates an "Orwellian" society, blurring the line between safety and privacy.

"Just because cameras are put up for one announced reason it doesn't mean it stays that way," said Bill Brown, director of Surveillance Camera Players, a street performance group that has been leading weekly tours of surveillance cameras in New York's public arenas for 10 years.

The American Civil Liberties Union in New York found that the number of cameras visible from public streets has exploded in the last seven years. According to a recently released report, the organization found 4,176 cameras below 14th Street -- more than five times the cameras counted in the same area in 1998.

Surveillance cameras do not stop crime or terrorist attacks, Brown said, but open doors for "video voyeurism" and unlawful ways of obtaining information or evidence for investigations. Brown pointed to last year's suicide bombings in Britain -- a leader in public surveillance with at least 4 million cameras -- which killed 52 people on the city's Underground train line. "There has been surveillance in Britain for over a decade, and it's not solving their crime problem," Brown said.

But police and community members say cameras are beneficial [...]

(Written by Natasha Lee and published in the 18 December 2006 issue of The Stamford Advocate.)

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