The Eyes of Texas are Upon . . . YOU!
At the University of Texas at Austin surveillance cameras have been
installed throughout the campus in the name of "security". The number of
cameras, their location and purpose, who monitors them, and a whole host
of other questions have been deliberately hidden by the UT
Surveillance is contrary to the ideals of a university environment. The
vision of an academic community uninhibited by restraints on expression
of thought is threatened by the establishment of intrusive devices that
can instill the fear that one is being watched- in classrooms, dorm
rooms, anywhere. This can hinder the "marketplace of ideas"- the very
process that drives the university; this debate itself is crippled
through UT's secrecy.
UT has fought disclosure of the locations and operating procedures of
the cameras, denying Open Records requests and even getting a change in
state law to keep this information hidden. It is impossible to hold UT,
a public institution, accountable since they won't disclose information
about the cameras.
One reason for their secrecy may be that the cameras don't really secure
anything. On January 23, 2003 (MLK Day) the Martin Luther King, Jr.
statue was covered in eggs. Despite two cameras trained on the statue
directly, UTPD claimed that the 2 cameras were inoperable and thus no
evidence could be gathered. Cameras also did not catch perpetrators that
egged the ACES building on 24th and Speedway nor the Harry Ransom
Center. Nor did they see anyone leave a bundle of flowers under the
Robert E. Lee statue in the South Mall.
Another reason for UT's refusal secrecy is that transparency would
reveal the fact that there's no system of accountability in place. UTPD
Chief Jeffrey Van Slyke has bluntly said "I don't know where the cameras
are." UTPD monitors only a select few cameras, leaving the installation
to Information Technology Services (ITS), which sets up cameras for
individuals, departments or other entities who file a request. It
appears that ITS has no guidelines; they put the cameras up, but then
what? Who monitors them and for what purpose? William Stephens, an ITS
systems engineer has stated, "My concern is there's no real policy on
how these [systems] are managed. The University should have a policy."
(The Daily Texan 2/14/2003.) Rather than some centralized
Panopticon keeping an Orwellian eye on UT, it appears campus
surveillance is a decentralized, unaccountable, and haphazard effort.
Why the Concern? UT Watch is concerned about the pervasiveness
of cameras on the UT campus and their implications.
- What is done with the tapes and/or digital storage devices that
footage is stored on? Who gets them? Where do they go?
- What kinds of spaces are monitored?
- What kinds of activities are tracked and monitored?
- Is there a central location for viewing? Is the video feed available
through campus intranets or the internet?
- Is there a coherent policy for installation and operation of the
- Invasions of privacy- with cameras exempt there is no way to know if
cameras are located in or are viewing into bathrooms, dorm rooms,
- Threat to free speech and assembly
- Threat to free exchange of ideas on campus
""A lot of
sort of science-fiction scenarios are technologically possible now,"
says Jay C. Stanley, communications director for the American Civil
Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Program and co-author of a
recent report, "Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains: "The Growth of an
American Surveillance Society." Campuses cause greater privacy concerns
than other locations where cameras might be installed, he says, because
"there's one administration over the entire campus, so it's a natural to
set up one centralized viewing room," making it possible for campus
officials to secretly follow students around the campus. That concern is
heightened by the extensive reach of the USA Patriot Act, he says, which
could potentially be used to force campus officials to hand over data
about student behavior."
- Students should have a right to know if
they're being monitored.
- Academic space should be
as free as possible. Free speech and exchange of ideas are integral
aspects of a healthy university and free society.
- Student, staff and faculty should feel free to participate in any
kind of political/social/other kind of activity without fear of being
- The West Mall is not a primary target for terrorist activity and
disclosure of camera locations in most parts of 40 acres will not
threaten national security.
- Only through disclosure of camera locations and their operating
procedures can students and the public know if UT, a public institution,
is using cameras in a way that is not abusive. Cameras in locations that
are critical, such as at the nuclear reactor at J.J. Pickle, should be
exempt and they can be under the law prior to HB 9.
UT's Campaign for Secrecy On October 11th,2002,
Jonathon York, a reporter for The Daily Texan, filed an open
records request for information concerning camera locations on campus
and their time of use. UT responded by filing a lawsuit with Attorney
General Greg Abbott. Abbott immediately threw the case out stating that
he was "hopeful that UT will promptly produce the public records, rather
than continuing to fight in litigation." Deputy Attorney General Jeff
Boyd added that Abbott was adamant that his office fight the
University's position. The University appealed, and that suit was thrown
out by Travis County District Judge Paul Davis. UT then filed yet
another suit but dropped it.
This occurred during the Texas 78th Legislative Regular Session in
spring 2003 and UT was determined to avoid disclosue through legislative
means by taking advantage of the flourishing security culture since
9-11. Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, introduced HB 1191, which sought
to keep certain government information about emergency procedures and
weapon building in Texas confidential. In February, according to Allen,
the UT System requested a clause closing off information "that relates
to the details of a security system that is used to protect public or
private property, including an access code to the property" in HB 1191.
Present for a hearing for the bill on March 10th were UT System Attorney
Helen Bright and UT Director of Environmental Health and Safety Erle
Janssen. (The Daily Texan 4/3/2003)
The bill passed through committee, but the Open Records clause was
removed. However on the House floor Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford,
revived the amendment to the bill. Several representatives of both
parties including Reps. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampassas, Senfronia
Thompson, D-Houston, Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, and Scott Hochberg,
D-Houston questioned King and the amendment. Hupp and Burnam expressed
dislike for the amendment altogether. Thompson questioned its effect in
the rules of discovery in a civil suit. Hochberg stated that the
amendment's wording was vague. King's amendment was withdrawn.
In late May a similar amendment was added to HB 9 by Sen. Eliot
Shapleigh D-El Paso. This bill exempts operating procedures and
locations of the cameras from Freedom of Information Act requests,
except requests on the locations of cameras in private offices at state
agencies. Any information about cameras in public spaces in now closed.
Suprisingly Shapleigh has said, "History has taught us to be vigilant
about the loss of liberty to those who want to 'monitor us in order to
increase our security,' Republicans and Democrats alike had some
concerns when I asked the simple question, 'Do we know if there is a
camera in our office?'" and initially wanted to disclose all the
information. He has said that proponents of the exemption to the open
records act "made a plausible case" that influenced his change of
position. (The Daily Texan 6/16/2003)
Who are these
proponents? We don't know exactly who Shapleigh is referring to, but we
do know that UT officials Helen Bright and Erle Janssen attended these
hearings regarding confidentiality of information throughout the
| |Text from legislation-
Amendment to HB 9
Sec. 418.182. CONFIDENTIALITY OF CERTAIN INFORMATION RELATING TO
SECURITY SYSTEMS. (a) Except as provided by Subsections (b) and (c),
information, including access codes and passwords, in the possession of
a governmental entity that relates to the specifications, operating
procedures, or location of a security system used to protect public or
private property from an act of terrorism or related criminal activity
(b) Financial information in the possession of a
governmental entity that relates to the expenditure of funds by a
governmental entity for a security system is public information that is
not excepted from required disclosure under Chapter 552.
Information in the possession of a governmental entity that relates to
the location of a security camera in a private office at a state agency,
including an institution of higher education, as defined by Section
61.003, Education Code, is public information and is not excepted from
required disclosure under Chapter 552 unless the security camera:
(1) is located in an individual personal residence for which the
state provides security; or
(2) is in use for surveillance in an
active criminal investigation.
(The following was written by Lomi Kriel and published in the 16
June 2003 issue of The Daily Texan.)
Law allows UT to keep security camera info
Cameras included on FOIA exemptions in
Texas' homeland security bill, which would keep secret the locations
of security cameras around campus, awaits only the signature of the
governor before becoming law. A subsection of House Bill 9 would
effectively exempt operating procedures and locations of the cameras
from requests under the Freedom of Information Act. The bill was sent to
Gov. Rick Perry June 3.
Last year, The Daily Texan filed an Open Records request for
camera locations and expenses at the University. After Texas Attorney
General Greg Abbott ruled in favor of the Texan, the University
filed a lawsuit to overturn his decision. Travis County District Judge
Paul Davis dismissed that suit in February. The University decided to
appeal the case in March.
Under an amendment to the bill, information regarding security
cameras in private offices remains public information. The bill closes
information about cameras in public areas.
"If you're trying to find a camera by the Texas Union, you're not
likely to get that," said Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, the author of
the camera amendment. "But you can get the location of a camera in a
private office, like a financial aid counselor's office." Shapleigh
pushed the new clause after fears that the bill would close all
information regarding security cameras.
"History has taught us to be vigilant about the loss of liberty to
those who want to 'monitor us in order to increase our security,'"
Shapleigh said. "Republicans and Democrats alike had some concerns when
I asked the simple question, 'Do we know if there is a camera in our
office?'" Shapleigh said that he had originally opposed closing this
information. "I wanted all camera locations disclosed, I saw no need for
an exception to the Open Records Act," Shapleigh said. "But the security
folks made a plausible case that those locations should be exempt."
Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for institutional relations and
legal affairs, said this legislation would close information similar to
that requested by the Texan. "We had understood that this was a
matter important not only to the University, but also to state law
enforcement agencies," Ohlendorf said. Ohlendorf said it was not yet
clear whether this legislation would affect the lawsuit.
Mike Viesca, the attorney general's press officer, said he could not
comment on legislation currently before the governor.
Various UT officials attended hearings regarding the confidentiality
of security camera information throughout the session, including Helen
Bright, UT System attorney, and Erle Janssen, UT Director of
Environmental Health and Safety. But the University's representatives
were only there to provide information, Ohlendorf said. "You can't ask
someone to vote or not to vote," she said.
Scott Henson, a member of the legislative committee at the American
Civil Liberties Union, worried that under the bill's restrictions, not
only would one not know where the cameras were located, but also how the
tapes were used. Shapleigh voiced similar concerns. "We are living in an
era when we must be very vigilant about the loss of privacy," Shapleigh
William G. Staples, a sociology professor at the University of Kansas
and author of "Everyday Surveillance: Vigilance and Visibility in
Postmodern Life," said if universities use tapes in their surveillance
cameras, then students should have input into regulating that policy and
procedure as a security measure.
Nationwide, concerns about surveillance cameras have been raised as
more universities use them for campus security. H. Scott Doner,
president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement
Administrators, estimated that almost half of all American colleges have
at least a few security cameras. "They are a great, effective crime
prevention tool," Doner said.
Staples said it is crucial to provide a compelling case as to why
security cameras are necessary in a specific location and to show
evidence that it would increase security. "There is an increased belief
in our society that cameras solve problems," Staples said. "I am just
not convinced that that is the case." Staples also said if cameras are
used for crime deterrence, then signs notifying
camera surveillance in a specific area should be posted.
But disclosing camera locations around important research activities
might aid potential terrorists, Shapleigh said. Ohlendorf said in
January that withholding camera locations is crucial to public
But Staples voiced concerns about the effects of surveillance on an
academic community. Staples said college campuses are often a place for
engaging in political debate and discourse, and surveillance could
possibly deter individuals from such participation, who worry that the
tapes could be used against them. "Can I speak freely in public?"
Staples asked. "Or do I know that I am going to be taped doing it?"