Communion Of Dreams

Entering Dystopia, population 94,428*
March 24, 2009, 4:56 pm
Filed under: ACLU, Civil Rights, Government, Politics, Predictions, Privacy, Science Fiction, Society, tech

I’m becoming a crank.

Yeah, yeah, I know, what do I mean “becoming?”

But seriously, I am starting to worry a bit.  Why?  Because I am having a probably unnecessary overreaction to a couple of bits of news here in my hometown.  I think it’ll become obvious what I mean, when I tell you what they are:

Cameras keep watch downtown

The city of Columbia has installed a cluster of four surveillance cameras at Ninth Street and Broadway as a demo for a larger project to monitor and deter downtown crime.

Watchtower Security is stationing security cameras on Broadway.

The cameras, which are suspended in the air on a post and resemble black fish eyes, were installed Monday by Watchtower Security, a St. Louis-based manager of surveillance equipment. Each camera has “pan, tilt and zoom” capability, allowing a viewer to read a license plate number or identify facial features from several hundred feet away.

* * *

Each of the camera groups is a fixed to a mobile pole that can be installed anywhere with a 110-volt outlet and moved as crime activity dictates. The cameras will all be placed downtown — the Special Business District contributed half of the $50,000 budget for the project — at intersections or alleys.

That was last month. Here’s this month’s:

City negotiates deal for camera use at red lights

Although negotiations on red-light cameras for Columbia have been stop-and-go for more than a year, city officials have given the green light for a contract with a new company, and test cameras could be up by July 1.

* * *

Another feature unique to Gatso was the “Amber Alert” camera setting. With the flick of a switch, St. Romaine said, the cameras can scan every license plate that passes through the intersection and look for matches if an abductor’s plate number is known.

“It’s not only for Amber Alerts, either,” St. Romaine said. It could be used “if there was a bank robbery and we could get the plate number. It’s a feature that’s not been out long. It was introduced in Chicago in the last four or five months. They would bring that added value to the system.”

I must admit, I agree with the comments of our local head of the ACLU, who last week said this about the Downtown cameras:

ACLU finds camera plan ‘creepy’

Where Columbia city leaders and some downtown businesses see added security and comfort in new surveillance cameras planned for downtown, others see government invasion of personal activities.

“It makes my skin crawl that we would just accept this so unquestioningly,” said attorney Dan Viets, president of the Mid-Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

* * *

“It boils down to safety,” police Capt. Zim Schwartze said. “We’re going to use every tool we can that the budget will allow. … It’s unfortunate that people think we’re trying to watch them just to watch them. You’d be amazed how many cameras are in the city right now in private businesses, out in the mall, bank, grocery stores. … People are being watched and have been watched for a long time.”

Ah, yes, “safety.” Of course, that makes everything OK. Same excuse has been given for the red-light cameras. It’ll stop people from running red lights, doncha know. And the ability for the “Amber Alert” feature, which will allow the cameras to scan *every* license plate that passes through the intersection? Well, that’s to protect the children. We must do everything we can to protect the children, right?

And yes, there are lots of cameras in private businesses and at the mall, or in the parking lot at Sam’s & WalMart. That bugs me enough as it is. But all of those are private property – not public streets. And they are not being monitored by government agencies.

See, right there – I’m becoming a crank. I’m becoming one of those guys who is a bit paranoid of his own government, even though I am friends with one of our city council members, and on good terms with at least two others. Even though my wife serves on an important city government board, and I’m involved in the city government at the neighborhood association level. Why am I becoming a crank?

Because I value my privacy. No, I don’t have anything particular I wish to hide. My life is entirely too boring, and has been for a long long time. But while I am happy to comply with government requirements for paying taxes and getting licenses, making sure my car is inspected and properly insured, and obey driving laws to an absurd degree, I don’t want my government, even at the local level, to be able to track my movements around town. I don’t want to have myself monitored if I choose to go for a stroll downtown (which is now less likely – seriously, I *avoid* this crap when I can). Oh, sure, I’m a former downtown business owner, and a solid member of the community – a white, middle-aged guy who respects cops and is on a first name basis with the mayor. I’m not going to be hassled, and I won’t be targeted for increased scrutiny.

But why should any law abiding citizen be subject to this invasion?

Jim Downey

*From the 2006 Census estimates. Title refers your choice of dystopian, authoritarian futures as outlined in countless books and movies. Cross posted to UTI.

6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

And a good comment from Scott at UTI included a link to actual studies on the effectiveness in terms of safety for red-light cameras.

Jim D.

Comment by James Downey

[…] 25, 2009 in Uncategorized | by James Downey Over on my blog I have a bit of a rant pertaining to Columbia, which isn’t specific to the neighborhood. […]

Pingback by A rant. « Neighborhood Notes

I decided this morning to cross-post this over to dKos, where it generated some interesting discussion.

Jim D.

Comment by James Downey

[…] Filed under: ACLU, Civil Rights, Government, Politics, Predictions, Privacy, Society, tech Huh, a couple of weeks ago I complained about this: Cameras keep watch […]

Pingback by Well, maybe I’m not such a crank, after all. « Communion Of Dreams

[…] an effort to put “security cameras” in place in our downtown area, a subject I have written about previously. Last spring our City Council decided to put a stop to it, but proponents have gathered enough […]

Pingback by Gimme that ol’ time surveillance! « Communion Of Dreams

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