FAQ :: Do any cities have 24-hour surveillance?

Yes. Medina, Washington, a city of 3,100 with an average household income of $222,000 and hometown of Bill Gates has installed an elaborated Big Brother spy camera network. The city council took this draconian action because there were 11 burglaries in the previous year of 2008.Cameras installed at intersections monitor every vehicle coming into the city. They capture all plate numbers in a crime-prevention measure that a councilman says “outweighs concern over privacy.” It has new signs posted at the entrances to its Big Brother conclave warning: “You Are Entering a 24 Hour Video Surveillance Area.”

Under the “automatic license plate recognition” project, once a car enters Medina, a camera captures its license-plate number. Within seconds, the number is run through a database. If a hit comes up for a felony — say, the vehicle was reported stolen or is being driven by a homicide suspect — the information is transmitted instantaneously to police, who can “leap into action,” said Police Chief Jeffrey Chen.

All captured information is stored for 60 days — even if nothing negative turns up, he said. That allows police to mine data if a crime occurs later, Chen said.

Doug Honig, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said such a system smacks of privacy violations. “Government shouldn’t be keeping records of people’s comings and goings when they haven’t done anything wrong,” he said. “By actions like this, we’re moving closer and closer to a surveillance society.”

Medina City Councilman Lucius Biglow said crime prevention “outweighs concern over privacy. Privacy is considerably less nowadays than it was, say, 50 years ago,” he said. “I think most of us are pretty well-documented by the federal government… simply because of the Internet and credit cards.”

A 2005 city survey showed that nearly a half of Medina’s residents agreed with the camera installation. In 2007, the City Council unanimously approved moving forward. The city looked to nearby Hunts Point as an example. The peninsula-shaped residential community just north of Medina has been using a video-camera setup to record a continuous loop of car traffic in and out of town for more than three years and not a single resident has complained about it.

“We’re not elitist at all,” Council member Robert Rudolph said. “There is a mix of people in Medina of all economic strata. What we’re doing here is protecting our citizenry.” [1]


[1] Krishnan, Sonia. “Cameras keep track of all carsenteringMedina.” Seattle Times 9.16.2009.http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2009873854_ me dina16m.html.