April 30, 2013

In U.S. cities, eyes are everywhere

The rise of surveillance cameras creates tension between privacy advocates and law enforcement.

By TERRY ATLAS and GREG STOHR/Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON - A pedestrian who strolls through Boston's Financial District, an area of about 40 city blocks, can be seen by at least 233 private and public cameras.

click image to enlarge

People pause on Boylston Street at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last Saturday. A pedestrian who strolls through Boston’s Financial District can be seen by at least 233 private and public cameras.

The Associated Press

Judy Clarke
click image to enlarge

Judy Clarke


Prominent death penalty lawyer Judy Clarke is joining the team representing the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings.

The appointment of Clarke, based in San Diego, Calif., was approved Monday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler.

Bowler denied a request from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s public defender to appoint a second death penalty lawyer. Bowler said Tsarnaev’s lawyers could renew their motion to appoint another death penalty expert if Tsarnaev is indicted.

The 19-year-old Tsarnaev has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction during the April 15 marathon. Three people were killed and more than 260 injured when two bombs exploded near the finish line.

Clarke’s clients have included Unabomber Ted Kaczynski; Susan Smith, who drowned her two children; and most recently Tucson, Ariz., gunman Jared Loughner. All received life sentences instead of the death penalty.

In the aftermath of the terrorist bombing there on April 15, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis wants even more cameras to boost street-level surveillance, said spokeswoman Cheryl Fiandaca. Other cities, too, now may be spurred to expand their systems, which security specialists said will fuel sales growth in the $3.2 billion video surveillance industry.

Such actions increase tensions between law enforcement officials and privacy advocates, who say they worry about Big Brother intrusions into people's legal activities. The American Civil Liberties Union in San Francisco raised such concerns after Police Chief Greg Suhr cited Boston last week in saying he wants additional cameras for downtown Market Street to give police a better look during parades and other public events.

"We shouldn't rush into mass surveillance of San Franciscans as they go about their everyday lives," Abdi Soltani, executive director of the ACLU of Northern California, said on the group's website.

The role of video surveillance drew national attention as the FBI used law enforcement and private security cameras -- plus smartphone images provided by hundreds of people -- to identify the suspected bombers, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Since the al-Qaida attacks on New York and the Pentagon in 2001, U.S. cities have deployed video and other sensors purchased with the help of billions of dollars in federal counterterrorism funding.


"The Boston bombing is a terrible reminder of why we've made these investments -- including camera technology that could help us deter an attack, or investigate and apprehend those involved," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the day after the attack.

Chicago authorities have access to about 10,000 public and private video surveillance cameras, according to a 2011 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. San Francisco has cameras in high-crime areas that are reviewed for evidence after a crime has occurred.

While New York and some other cities have expanded the number of cameras using grants from the Department of Homeland Security, other cities such as Los Angeles have opted against widespread use of cameras, in part because of the cost, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.

One law-enforcement ambition is to couple real-time video with artificial intelligence software able to act before a terrorist bombing or other crime occurs. Such systems would alert police to warning signs, such as an abandoned backpack or recognized face, in time to avert a potential terrorist attack.

New York, a target for terrorist plots more frequently than any other U.S. city, is advancing toward that capability with its so-called Domain Awareness System, an effort developed with Microsoft that's described as drawing real-time information from about 3,000 CCTV cameras and other sensors in lower and midtown Manhattan.

Boston-area authorities had almost 150 cameras in the local network as of 2007, according to the most recent figures provided to the ACLU of Massachusetts. Carol Rose, the group's executive director, warns against what she considers the temptation to see increasing video surveillance as a solution to the terrorist threat.

"People have to understand there was a lot of surveillance at the finish line of the Boston Marathon," she said. "Neither there nor in the many studies that have been done is there any evidence that surveillance is going to stop or deter someone from a violent act."

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)