Municipal Surveillance Isn’t 2-Sided

If you follow the market of video surveillance cameras deployed as part of municipal surveillance projects, then you may have heard that large systems integrator Unisys has landed an $8.9 million project with Philadelphia to add 250 cameras to what was a decent-sized surveillance project already. This follows not far after Chicago's announcement of plans to expand its municipal surveillance project, and if there's one major trend in our indusry, this is probably it.Coincidentally, I was on the phone this week with a producer for a Los Angeles radio station who was seeking me to be part of a debate about surveillance camera deployments. The idea for the debate, she said, came from the film "LOOK" by Adam Rifkin, which is a movie shot entirely from the angle of surveillance cameras. The interesting thing about our industry is that we are perceived as people who want to put cameras everywhere."I thought you could take one side and our other panelist (an anti-surveillance voice) could take the other," she said. "What side exactly do you perceive me to be on?," I asked. She replied, "I think your side, correct me if I'm wrong, is that we need surveillance everywhere and that everything should be watched and everyone should be monitored and that there should be no privacy concerns."

I had to tell her that kind of "side" wasn't precisely my position, and I proceeded to explain to her that I'd be more interested in discussing things like return on investment and in what cases I thought cameras were applicable and when they are not, and I would explain that privacy is something everyone considers -- even those who install surveillance cameras. "Cameras can be a useful tool when their are certain needs," I explained, "but I'm not going to say they are right for every situation." That gave her pause. "Well maybe we need some sort of right-wing nut who would say that." I reiterated that you wouldn't classify me as a right-wing nut, and that in any discussion of technology implementation, I would have to take an educated and moderate standpoint on the issue.

Well, apparently they have found a right-wing nut, she tells me today, so I'll just be a listener. The radio station is KCRW and the show is "The Politics of Culture," and yes, in today's ".com" age, you'll be able to find that broadcast on the web shortly afterwards. With any luck it won't just be a civil libertarian vs. a "right-wing nut", but might just delve into real issues that city populations should consider when assessing municipal security deployments, but I'm not holding my breath. Frankly, as someone who offers his words as a voice for our industry, I'm wary of the perception that we are all camera-crazy nuts, when I know that privacy is an issue that we all wrestle with daily, whether it's with zone masking on cameras or concerning yourself with protecting the identities and lives of your employees.