Surveillance systems are tempting, but proceed with cautions

Friday, July 13, 2007

Feel like somebody's watching you?

More than likely, they are.

The extensive surveillance camera system in London was credited with the capture of a number of recent would-be bombers, but it wasn't installed to deal with al Qaeda. That system went into place back in the 1970s and '80s to deal with the Irish Republican Army. (That same threat helped spawn much of the technology now used to deal with improvised explosive devices in Iraq.)

New York, the only U.S. city to experience a massive terror attack, plans to install as many as 3,000 security cameras in the next three years, a third of them owned by the NYPD and the others by private security agencies.

But one doesn't need to cross the Atlantic or even the country to encounter a security camera network capable of keeping a close watch on you. Wander through a big discount store, use an ATM, get stopped for a speeding ticket, walk down the hall in a public building -- even drive down Norris Avenue, and someone may be spying on you (check out http://www.bisonalumni.com/mccook_camera.html on the Internet).

Cheyenne, Wyo., is installing security cameras on its fleet of buses, Western Nebraska Community College in Scottsbluff recently awarded a bid to install a 34-camera video surveillance and "access control" system in two dorms, and Northwest High School in Grand Island is spending $42,000 to install 38 security cameras.

We can understand the temptation.

Installing cameras is without question cheaper than hiring an equivalent number of security guards or police officers, especially when budgets are tight. And in a school-type setting, video recordings can certainly take the guesswork out of who did what to whom.

Walk through that same big discount store, and you'll find cheap consumer-type remote cameras for keeping an eye on your front door or the kids' room.

But, as a friend of ours laments, "you'd be paranoid too, if everyone was watching you all the time!"

We should be very cautious about allowing crime or the threat of terrorism to turn our country -- or our community -- into an electronic police state.

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