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BLOG: Post Boston: Privacy advocates warn about coming tsunami of surveillance cameras

Ms Smith | April 23, 2013
After Boston, there is a cry to increase surveillance cameras. But facial recognition technology didn't identify the bombing suspects. Privacy advocates warn that creating more of a surveillance society, further decreasing privacy, is not the answer.

A flood of officials are calling for increased surveillance, including Rep. Peter King, former Homeland Security chairman, who said, "I do favor more cameras. They're a great law enforcement method and device. And again, it keeps us ahead of terrorists, who are constantly trying to kill us."

Yet EFF attorney Hanni Fakhoury said, "The only way to use these cameras to prevent crime is to have blanket surveillance, to have someone monitoring every intersection and nook and cranny, and that's where we have problems."

Immediately after the Boston tragedy, David Maynor, the CTO of Errata Security, warned, "If our current level of surveillance and personal intrusion did not stop this tragedy then nothing will. We must fight back by staying free."

Laura K. Donohue, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, told the Wall Street Journal:

"The U.S. has not just met London's standard, it has actually surpassed it," thanks to facial recognition and other technology. But American law doesn't yet provide clear limits on the use of such technology, because most of it is deployed in areas that are considered public space.

Alan Butler, an attorney with EPIC, added, "It's one thing to have private closed-circuit cameras and look at feeds after the fact. It's very different if you're talking about systems of cameras identifying and tracking people over time, all the time. Especially if you couple that with facial recognition and license-plate readers and databases."

"If you are not safe in your home and if you are not safe in the street, then your privacy becomes kind of a hollow concern," according to Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. "Law enforcement struggles daily with the balance between privacy and safety," Pasco told Politico. "Nobody is more mindful of it. But we're also mindful of the fact that technology moves at a warp speed and provides a unique opportunity to enhance public safety in a time when resources are strained and communications and transportations are so sophisticated. It's easier to be a criminal than a law-abiding citizen."

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, warned us to think long and hard about whether surveillance cameras could prevent a terrorist attack in an urban area, before "creating a fishbowl society of surveillance." Turley wrote on USA Today:

No one is seriously questioning the value of having increased surveillance and police at major events. That was already the case with the Boston Marathon. However, privacy is dying in the United States by a thousand papercuts from countless new laws and surveillance systems. Before we plunge ahead in creating a fishbowl society of surveillance, we might want to ask whether such new measures or devices will actually make us safer or just make us feel safer.



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