The Flathead Beacon reports that the town of Libby, Montana (population within city limits 2,800, area-wide 11,675), is considering creating a camera surveillance system. Libby is not the first small town to consider using camera surveillance. Last year, Tiburon, California (population 8,800), decided to spend $100,000 on license-plate scanning cameras to track every car that entered or exited the town (it has two roads). A few years ago, St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana (population: 66,000), spent $112,000 for surveillance cameras.
US cities are increasingly using camera surveillance systems, though their security benefits are questionable. I have often spoken about the fact that CCTV systems are neither effective nor cost-effective. Security expert Bruce Schneier has explained how cameras create a false sense of security. And there have been abuses of camera surveillance systems (read more about that after the jump).
The Flathead Beacon reports:
Several instances of vandalism last year in Libby have caused the mayor and chief of police to explore the possibility of downtown security cameras, a move that at least one business owner is calling an invasion of privacy.
The idea is still in the initial phases, Mayor Doug Roll said, but it would involve putting multiple high-resolution cameras on Mineral Avenue. The cameras, which would be able to pick up on faces or license plate numbers, wouldn’t be used for enforcing traffic laws, Roll said, but as an eye-in-the-sky witness to help police if a problem occurs. […]
This cycle of vandalism happens every couple of years, Smith said, and he only has one officer to devote to nighttime patrol.
Working with Kalispell-based company Integrated Security Solutions, Roll said the total cost for the cameras could range from $40,000 to $70,000, depending on the camera system. Smith said while he would prefer to hire an additional officer, a one-time payment on cameras would be more cost-effective.
The idea of putting city cameras on Mineral Avenue, however, rubs Libby tax accountant Wayne Hirst the wrong way. […]
Hirst was concerned that the cameras would be used to monitor residents’ actions, especially those who may be imbibing at the bars downtown. He wondered what would stop the police from watching who goes into the bar and then pull them over when they leave.
Questions about the “mission creep” and misuse of camera surveillance systems have been raised before. Everyone has heard of the police officer who used surveillance cameras to zoom in on women’s breasts and buttocks at the San Francisco airport and the New York police officers who used high-powered surveillance cameras to spy on a couple’s romantic activity. In Tacoma, Wash., a high school official showed parents video of their daughter kissing another girl. The surveillance cameras had been put in place to catch crimes such as vandalism or schoolyard fights, yet the footage was used for a completely different purpose.
The Flathead Beacon reports, “Both Smith and Roll said something like this would not happen because the cameras would transmit their video to a hard drive kept at the police department. The images would only be called up to help with a criminal investigation about an incident that wasn’t witnessed, such as late-night vandalism. The video would also be on a loop, Smith said.”