Overcoming Technical, Legal Hurdles in Municipal Surveillance

Overcoming Technical, Legal Hurdles in Municipal Surveillance

One of the most important, but perhaps overlooked components of having a citywide surveillance system is maintenance. After all, what good does it do to have a surveillance system if it does not function properly?

According to Spilman, Tele-Tector has a crew of workers dedicated to providing upkeep on the CitiWatch system.

“We do preventative maintenance every day, Monday through Friday on the cameras and we go to different locations. All the cameras are touched about once a quarter or so to clean them off,” he said. “We monitor the system every day and if there are issues with a camera we troubleshoot them within two-to-four hours typically.”

Even when an integrator has the full support of city leadership and law enforcement officials as Tele-Tector did in Baltimore, there can be a number of different legal challenges that can arise in addition to the technical ones during the integration of a surveillance network.

System Development Integration LLC (SDI), which integrated surveillance cameras from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport into the city’s Operation Virtual Shield (OVS) network, has had to navigate numerous policy issues throughout the project’s history, according to Donald Zoufal, safety and security executive for the company.

When SDI took over the contract for the airport in the early 2000s, Zoufal, the former deputy commissioner for safety and security at Chicago’s Department of Aviation, said there were about 750 cameras between the two airports, which has expanded to well in excess of 2,000. With that expansion, however, have come a number of legal concerns.

“In my experience, the policy issues are often times the more significant hurdles to overcome,” Zoufal said. “I have yet to come up with a technology request from SDI when I was their client or in my experience working with SDI where I’ve gone to the technology guys and said ‘Hey, a client wants to do A, B or C. Can we accommodate that from a technology point-of-view?’ Generally, those solutions are doable now. There may be cost factors, but getting the technology to do what you want it to do, especially with the advent of digital platforms, that’s pretty easy. Often times, it’s getting policy agreements, it’s getting that design of a concept of operations and buy-in from multiple jurisdictions and agencies that’s the much more difficult thing to accomplish.”

There were still technical challenges, however and one of the first obstacles that SDI had to overcome, according to Zoufal, was providing a migration path from the legacy analog infrastructure at the airports to a digital platform. Beyond that, Zoufal said that the majority of issues related to this and similar camera systems are generally policy-related.


Storage and accessibility issues

Among some of the biggest legal concerns for cities include access to video by the public and how long footage must be stored.

“In Illinois, and I think in most states, the concept that data that is gathered and recorded by cameras constitutes public data and public records,” Zoufal explained. “That means they fall heavily under whatever legal requirements you have for maintaining public records. That’s important from the standpoint of system operation because it tells you how much data you have to store.”

When the OVS system was being created, Zoufal said that they had to make a proposal to an independent commission on how long they would store video. The commission would later accept their proposal to store video for a period of 30 days.

“That’s a big driver for your system in terms of how many days you have to store it,” he said. “One of the teaching points is that was beyond the political control of the city that wanted to implement this system.”

However, Zoufal said that after they had agreed on 30 days, there was a proposal that was put forth in the state legislature and later rejected that would have required them to store video for two years, which would have created tremendous ongoing infrastructure costs for the city.