The ACLU has created a site to track the proliferation of video surveillance systems throughout the United States. Closed circuit television systems (CCTV) have often been sold to the public as systems that help prevent crime. However, numerous studies (some conducted by US and UK law enforcement agencies) have shown that CCTV systems have little effect on crime rates. The costs of camera surveillance systems, in terms of civil liberties, are evident. However, there is also a financial cost. I have often spoken about the fact that CCTV systems are neither effective nor cost-effective.
ACLU Technology & Liberty Program Director Barry Steinhardt blogged about the new site:
You are being watched! Once that might have just been the ravings of a paranoid, but increasingly it’s all too true. More and more of the public spaces in America are being plastered by video surveillance cameras — and increasingly, the “they” behind those cameras is not a disconnected collection of shopkeepers and building security guards, but the government itself. One of the big trends that we are seeing in the past few years is video surveillance that is 1) run by the government and 2) made up of a network of cameras, centrally controlled.
And the images captured by those cameras are no longer spinning away harmlessly on old, recycled VHS cassettes. Today they are digital. They can be stored, archived, and indexed on today’s nearly limitless hard drives.
The bottom line: we’re quickly moving into an entirely new era. I get calls from reporters all the time asking, “how many video cameras are there in America?” or “How often is the average American filmed by cameras?” or “How many cities are building government camera systems?” I’ve never been able to supply precise answers to these questions, and usually suggest they try calling camera industry sources. We may never know how many private cameras are out there, but governments must, at least, reveal when they are building a system. So we’ve decided to build a web site to at least track how many of these new government-run surveillance systems are being deployed. The site, called www.youarebeingwatched.us, will serve as an information clearinghouse to track the deployment of those kinds of systems in the U.S. […}
The entire paradigm of video surveillance in the United States has shifted. We have moved from periodic installation of hard-to-search analog video cameras to the vision of a pervasive, unified system that uses a variety of technologies to track individuals and their movements. These systems reflect the power of the convergence of technologies. By combining cameras, computerized image analysis, RFID sensors, and down the road potentially other technologies such as GPS, these systems show how new surveillance technologies are becoming far more powerful in combination than in isolation. The “Ring of Steel” vision threaten to become the perfect storm of always-on, pervasive government surveillance.