Look Up: Someone Just Might Be Watching

October 14, 2009

It never occurred to me to look up. London was an amazing city, but the weather was always a bit dreary. It was windy and it rained a lot, so I was usually looking down at my feet and fighting to keep my umbrella from folding. Still, had I glanced up from time to time I might have realized something important: I was being watched.

Not by a jealous ex or an obsessed stalker – not anyone you might guess. No, my watcher was the British government. On a daily basis, I was being monitored by hundreds of surveillance cameras in London – over 500,000 to be exact – and I never knew it.

Today, hundreds of cities across the country have been installing surveillance cameras. They’re in shopping centers, college campuses, hospitals, and hotels. But they’re also popping up on public streets and in residential neighborhoods, pervasively and silently observing us with our children through fenced backyards and zooming in to see the text of the book we’re reading on the porch.

Even cities in Michigan like Lansing and Mt. Clemens have recently begun installing cameras. In Lansing, cameras are in residential areas right next to people’s homes; while in Mt. Clemens the cameras aren’t monitored all the time. But one thing is true in both scenarios – they don’t work.

It may be counterintuitive, but studies around the globe are showing that surveillance cameras do little to deter or solve crime – even in London there is a big push to take down the cameras. Moreover, the surveillance systems aren’t cheap. They’re expensive to install, require maintenance, and must be staffed by police officers – officers that could be better utilized patrolling the streets rather than sitting behind a monitor.

It’s quite simple, really – I don’t want to be secretly monitored every day. I rather like my privacy and I think it’s time we have a serious conversation about how much of it we want to give up before it’s all gone.

By Avani Bhatt, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney

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