Monday, October 20, 2003

Surveillance Cameras Invade Privacy, Provide Little Security

An article at MSNBC makes excellent points regarding the ineffectiveness of surveillance cameras in the United Kingdom. From the story:

"Very little evidence shows that speed cams reduce road deaths or that CCTV deters crime. It's only on the rare occasion that CCTV helps police catch criminals...

Instead, there's an overwhelming feeling that too often surveillance is used not to make the country safer but to monitor innocent people and, in the case of speed cams, raise much-needed tax revenues. 'There's this notion starting to build in countries around the world that maybe we've been conned -- that these security measures are smoke and mirrors,' says Simon Davies, director of London-based advocacy group Privacy International. 'People here are demanding a proper threat assessment.'"

Did I hear the words "threat assessment"? Someone is thinking properly! So why did these cameras get deployed in the first place?

"The technology came into vogue after two bombs, planted by the Irish Republican Army, exploded in London's financial district in the early '90s. The response: To create a 'ring of steel' -- a network of CCTV cameras on the eight official entry gates to the City of London... Originally, citizens embraced the technology. Being watched at all times made them feel safe.

Ten years later, it's clear CCTV has done little to clean up the streets. Study after study shows that CCTV simply displaces crime to areas where no cameras are present rather than preventing it. According to a June, 2002, report from crime-fighting nonprofit NACRO, CCTV cuts crime only by 5%, vs. 20% reduction achieved by brighter street lighting."

This situation mirrors so many security issues in the United States. I'll defer to recent books by Bruce Schneier and Marcus Ranum, which I hope to review later this month.

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