Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I Never Did Like The Name "Homeland Security"

First off there is something ominous about that name - Homeland .. like the German "Fatherland" or "Mother Russia" - and then there is the whole Security thing, like are we the ones being monitored and locked up or is everyone else being kept out? (well ... obviously the latter isn't true). Anyway, it's just too "Eastern Europe/Iron Curtain-esque" to me. Apparently I am not alone in that thinking. The phrase, "Homeland Security", just seems so Un-American and almost freedom stifling.

Semantics aside, even if they called it something more pleasing: It looks like Big Brother will be watching after all. Here is an article from :
US doles out millions for street cameras
The Department of Homeland Security is funneling millions of dollars to local governments nationwide for purchasing high-tech video camera networks, accelerating the rise of a "surveillance society" in which the sense of freedom that stems from being anonymous in public will be lost, privacy rights advocates warn.
Municipalities, large and small, across the country have received roughly $23 billion in federal grants for equipment and training in order to prepare for, or to combat terrorism. Since 2003, most of the money has paid for emergency drills and upgrades to basic emergency responder equipment like radios. Homeland Security has also has doled out millions on surveillance cameras, which have now placed city streets and public areas under constant observation.

Major cities like Boston have installed cameras in their subway systems. Some places even put up dummy cameras!

The article also says:
But privacy rights advocates say that the technology is putting at risk something that is hard to define but is core to personal autonomy. The proliferation of cameras could mean that Americans will feel less free because legal public behavior -- attending a political rally, entering a doctor's office, or even joking with friends in a park -- will leave a permanent record, retrievable by authorities at any time.

Businesses and government buildings have used closed-circuit cameras for decades, so it is nothing new to be videotaped at an ATM machine. But technology specialists say the growing surveillance networks are potentially more powerful than anything the public has experienced.

Until recently, most surveillance cameras produced only grainy analog feeds and had to be stored on bulky videotape cassettes. But the new, cutting-edge cameras produce clearer, more detailed images. Moreover, because these videos are digital, they can be easily transmitted, copied, and stored indefinitely on ever-cheaper hard-drive space.
Surprisingly, the article claims that Americans are pretty accepting of surveillance and support these measures as a means of fighting terrorism and other crime. Last month, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 71 percent of Americans favored increased use of surveillance cameras, while 25 percent opposed it.

The truth is that even homeland security specialists have noted that studies show that cameras are not effective in deterring crime or terrorism, however they are useful in apprehending suspects after a crime or attack. Most agree that the money used to buy and maintain surveillance cameras would be better spent on hiring more police.

The article concludes by saying:
David Heyman, the homeland security policy director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, pointed out that cameras can help catch terrorists before they have time to launch a second attack. Several recent failed terrorist attacks in England were followed by quick arrests due in part to surveillance video.

Earlier this month, Senator Joe Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, proposed an amendment that would require the Homeland Security Department to develop a "national strategy" for the use of surveillance cameras, from more effectively using them to thwart terrorism to establishing rules to protect civil liberties.

"A national strategy for [surveillance cameras] use would help officials at the federal, state, and local levels use [surveillance] systems effectively to protect citizens, while at the same time making sure that appropriate civil liberties protections are implemented for the use of cameras and recorded data," Lieberman said.
We've had security cameras installed at certain intersections in my town of West Hartford, CT. They say it is to monitor traffic and is used to determine traffic patterns,etc. I am not convinced, and I think that when they get the go ahead to employ cameras to catch speeders or people not obeying traffic laws they will send tickets to your home automatically. The problem with this type of legislation right now is that there are constitutional and other legal issues with that. One must be able to face one's accuser face to face in court. That can't happen when your accuser is a camera lens. But there are other issues as well.

I was in England not too long ago and the surveillance cameras all around London were just pretty creepy. I did not appreciate the constant feeling of being watched, even though I am a law abiding citizen with nothing to hide.

Unfortunately, as we become more de-sensitized to this invasion of privacy, people will probably not care about, or notice them, at all. I just think that as more cameras populate our streets, it sort of takes away the whole notion of "presumption of innocence" which our legal system is built upon. Losing that would be truly tragic.