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    Associated Press: Chicago Officials Defend Cameras After ACLU Report

    The ACLU of Illinois has released a report, “Chicago’s video surveillance cameras: A pervasive and unregulated threat to our privacy.” (pdf). In it, the group urges a moratorium on expansion of the city’s extensive camera surveillance network, a review of the system and new rules to protect individual privacy. The ACLU says:

    Chicago has our nation’s most “extensive and integrated” network of government video surveillance cameras, according to former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. While the City of Chicago is secretive about the number of cameras (as well as many other critical aspects of its camera program), the City does not dispute the repeated public reports that it has access to 10,000 publicly and privately owned cameras throughout the City. In the downtown district, virtually every segment of the public way is under video surveillance. These technologically sophisticated cameras have the power to automatically identify and track particular persons, and the capacity to magnify and make visible small details and objects at great distances. Nevertheless, the City seeks to expand and enhance the level of surveillance.

    The Associated Press reports that Chicago officials’ responded to the ACLU report “saying the cameras help police, are used in a public way and are monitored.” Jose Santiago, executive director of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said in a statement that the cameras have helped solve more than 4,500 crimes and “prevented an untold number of crimes” since 2006. Also, “there are safeguards in place to prevent abuse, he said, noting that all images are erased after two years.”

    The network includes private cameras and those installed by city agencies, such as the Chicago Transit Authority. While many of the cameras are visible – like those with flashing blue lights affixed to street poles – countless others are unmarked. City officials have been tight-lipped about how many cameras Chicago has in place, but no one disputes that there are at least 10,000, including more than 4,000 installed by Chicago Public Schools and at least 1,000 at O’Hare International Airport.

    In its report, the ACLU outlined three specific technologies that exceed the powers of ordinary human observation and increase the government’s power to watch the public: zoom, facial recognition capacity and automatic tracking. Santiago said Tuesday that the cameras don’t have all those technologies. […]

    ACLU officials said the city declined to give the group information on the cameras, including a tour of its operation center, statistics on crime and cost estimates. According to the report, surrounding communities have paid hefty sums for cameras; suburban Cicero has 30 cameras which cost $580,000. […]

    In addition to the moratorium, the ACLU recommended more public input, regular audits, rules and regulation on who can view the images, public notice before installing a camera and disclosure of any abuse. The report cites cases in other cities where “male camera operators have ogled women.”

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