Video Surveillance in Belfast??

By Maria Gail | May 01, 2013

by Galen Stubbert

To maintain our rights as a people, we should all take some time to think about how we feel about surveillance cameras being integrated into our public areas.  There are many different angles to this dilemma,  and all should be examined.  In this day and age, we're all used to dealing with cameras when shopping at stores.  These are meant to help protect the store owner from theft, and we accept them as it being the store owner's right to protect their goods.  But how do we feel about having cameras in our public areas where a more authoritative hand is pulling the strings?

There are long-standing laws in the United States prohibiting the use of audio recording without a person's knowledge or consent.  This is because it is considered an invasion of our privacy.  Because video technology has advanced so rapidly and has only recently become a tool for law enforcement, cameras don't have the same regulations that audio recordings do.  This is why you never see a surveillance camera that also records sound.  Why on earth would we not have equivalent laws for video surveillance?

Having a public camera system isn't even a surefire way to reduce crime.  Just installing the proposed camera system along the Harbor Walk would cost the city an estimated $70,000.  And what would we be spending this $70,000 for?  To reduce crime, and make the people walking the Harbor Walk feel safer.  But when we take a closer look, neither of these things are actually getting accomplished.  Britain's video surveillance system consumes 20% of the  the country's entire criminal justice system budget.  To what avail?  While surveillance systems do help to catch criminals after a crime has been committed, sociologists studying the effectiveness of Britain’s surveillance system have found that it doesn't reduce crime or even the fear of crime.

The American Civil Liberties Union states that "The growing presence of public cameras will bring subtle but profound changes to the character of our public spaces. When citizens are being watched by the authorities - or aware they might be watched at any time - they are more self-conscious and less free-wheeling."  If we stop and think about it, this is a very true statement.  Imagine being at a dinner party with close friends, and you're all talking, hanging out, and having good conversation.  Then someone takes out a tape recorder and starts recording.  When asked what for, they say they'd just like to have it.  Obviously that would dramatically effect the conversation and make everyone feel self-conscious.  "People may learn to be careful about the books and periodicals they read in public, avoiding titles that might alarm unseen observers," says columnist Jacob Sullum.  "They may also put more thought into how they dress, lest they look like terrorists, gang members, druggies or hookers."  For a system that isn't proven to work, do we really want to implement a plan that negatively effects our experience of going out in public?

As video technology continues to evolve,  police departments will be in position to upgrade to the super cameras of the future.  As the American Civil Liberties Union asks, "Do we want the authorities installing high-resolution cameras that can read a pamphlet from a mile away? Cameras equipped to detect wavelengths outside the visible spectrum, allowing night vision or see-through vision? Cameras equipped with facial recognition, like those that have been installed in airports and even on the streets of Tampa, Florida?  Cameras augmented with other forms of artificial intelligence, such as those deployed in Chicago?"

Every political system eventually corrupts, crumbles, or falls.  In the event that our democracy falls to a dictator or a hostile takeover, would we really want video surveillance to already be an integrated part of daily life?  Of course, this would be far down the road.  But by the time we are faced with a takeover or a dictatorship, our surveillance system will have grown.  If we continue to have exponential growth in video technology, we will have powerful enough camera systems that we will be completely at the mercy of whoever is in power.  With systems like these in place we will be forfeiting our rights to the first person corrupt enough to take them.

After taking a closer look at  the pros and cons, we can clearly see that the cons far outweigh the pros.  We should keep public area surveillance cameras out of Belfast altogether.  If we install them as proposed along the Harbor Walk, as soon as cameras become less expensive I'm sure that the Belfast Police will decide to also install systems in our downtown.  I do not want to be subject to camera systems that are a clear violation of my rights of privacy as well as affecting the way I act and feel.  I hope that many of you feel the same way I do and voice your concerns.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Sarason David Liebler | May 01, 2013 18:04

I disagree!

The power of the public video camera in the recent bombing in Boston speaks for us all. The perpetrators were immediately on notice that they had been identified and the arrest of three others who were involved, albeit after the fact, stems from the Lord & Taylor camera shot.

It should be clear to all that in a public setting pulling off a crime is now far more risky and it will serve as a deterrent. One has to realize that when in a public space public surveillance is not an invasion of privacy but an umbrella of protection for all.


Must we be protected from misuse of surveillance ---YES but that is a different issue.


SD Liebler


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