FAQ :: Are spy cameras used in U.S. parks and communities?

Yes. Surveillance cameras in the 13-acre, $4.6 million Gateway Park in El Mirage, Arizona, allows the city’s assistant police chief, Bill Louis, to watch the park from his desk, operating a zoom lens so powerful he can see softball players, picnickers and potential crime suspects two blocks from a camera. Louis can also watch the video from the night shift supplied by Iveda Solutions, which operates the cameras and whose employees monitor the park from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“I defend the Constitution, and I’m concerned about Big Brother, too,” explained Louis. “But when we’re talking about a public park, historically, from a police department perspective, it’s a police problem location,” he said. “It’s one thing to have privacy in a place where there’s an expectation of privacy, but that’s not one of them. And I’ve never had anybody make an issue out of Big Brother or issues of privacy with cameras in the park. Certainly the benefit of having that outweighs any concern there would be, in my opinion.”

In Tempe, live photos of people strolling on Mill Avenue pop up on the city’s website every 15 seconds, taken from the “Sneaky Peak” camera barely visible atop a nearby building.

A rapidly spreading network of cameras is keeping watch on Phoenix-area residents. Over the past decade, government-operated closed-circuit-television cameras have sprung up in city libraries, pools and parks. Photo-enforcement cameras scan downtown streets and highways, casting the shadow of Big Brother across the Valley.

The appearance of CCTV cameras in Arizona is part of a trend in electronic policing designed to increase security and deter crime. It has become popular with government agencies in other states and countries, but it also has raised an outcry over invasion of privacy.

In Pennsylvania, a 15-year-old boy is suing a school district in suburban Philadelphia after it used webcams on laptops to snap nearly 56,000 photos of students who took the computers home. The district said it was trying to track lost and stolen laptops.

In Britain, an estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras track citizens so closely that a privacy watchdog estimates that people are captured on film in big cities 300 times a day.

In Vancouver, British Columbia, nearly 1,000 cameras were installed for the 2010 Winter Olympics to monitor crowds.

The cameras in the Phoenix valley are not that prevalent, but Chandler’s downtown library has 26 security cameras. In the public pool in Mesa, high-tech infrared cameras observe your movements as they monitor for vandalism and trespassing. Cameras on light-rail trains help the drivers keep an eye on what is happening inside and outside the cars.

Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU in Arizona, noted that Department of Homeland Security grants and grants from private companies have offered strong incentives for local governments to install cameras quickly and for a variety of purposes. Without safeguards, Meetze warns, Phoenix could become a “surveillance society,” with cameras in every public space and citizens having to cope with constant monitoring.

A stimulus grant from the Department of Transportation is paving the way for a $90,000 camera system to watch cars on Glendale’s streets and show traffic conditions. The City Council approved the installation without discussion in October.

At Iveda Solutions’ headquarters large plasma-television screens are divided into 16 squares. In one corner, a camera shows the lobby of a local small-town police station. Another shows a Michigan truck yard. Feeds from cameras in retail shops, parking lots and construction sites spread out across five other large monitors. One of them keeps track of the park in El Mirage.

David Ly founded the video-surveillance business about five years ago. It outfits companies with cameras, has employees who monitor the feeds overnight and sets up remote access so that business owners can view the footage on personal computers and cell phones. The company can monitor images for about $2 to $3 an hour per camera, saving customers about seventy-five percent of the cost of hiring a security guard, Ly said. He also offers a portal to law enforcement to view live feeds. If a business is being robbed, police can see who is inside, where they are and what weapons they have.

“These departments have less staff, and with the cutbacks in staff, it doesn’t mean you and I need any less service. So we’re providing electronic policing,” Ly said. “It’s not about intrusion; it’s just leveraging the technology to be somewhere when you cannot send a staff out there.”

As the number of cameras viewing the public increases, the technology also is advancing. Anyone with a smartphone can record friends and strangers and upload those photos and videos to the Internet for public consumption, giving people less control over their personal exposure. Sometimes that benefits law enforcement.

To police and other authorities, the increase in camera surveillance could be good news: People will be less likely to deface neighborhoods with graffiti, drive dangerously or use drugs in public places. But critics see a downside: Most people being watched are doing nothing wrong and have no reason to be observed.

Law professor, Sandy Askland, of Arizona State University compared the rapidly growing network of surveillance to that in Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall, where the government had spies in the community and paid informants to identify potential dissenters. The ultimate result, he said, could be censored conversations and a society in which people are afraid to offer their opinions. [1] Professor Askland is correct. When virtually every square inch of habitable land on earth is monitored by spy cameras in space, the air and on the ground the behavior of most people will be dramatically altered for the worse. That is what Big Brother wants. He wants to turn people into self-centered snitches who will rat anyone and everyone out for money or to get ahead. He wants the world to become like an East Germany Stasi nightmare!

Big Brother may soon be watching – at your local playground.” This is how Rich Calder began his article about the installation of CCTV cameras in New York City’s parks.

NYPD and Parks Department officials say it is only a matter of time before parks throughout the city are equipped with crime-fighting surveillance cameras. “It’s not a matter of if we are going to use the technology but when we are going to use this technology,” Deputy Parks Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey said during a recent City Council hearing on park safety. [2]

[1] Boehnke, Megan. “Web of Cameras Raising Privacy Concerns.” The Arizona Republic. 5.01.2010.
[2] Cape May Herald. “Lower Police to Get Surveillance Cameras from Army Program.” 7.03.2008.