People walking in Portland may soon have an incentive to dress better, keep their hair combed and smile every time they look up from street level. After all, we all like to be at our best when we have our pictures taken, don’t we?

A City Council order to a bar on Portland Street to install four surveillance cameras has raised eyebrows — and civil libertarians’ concerns — about something that is becoming much more common, at least in cities. People in much of England and many cities all over the world are photographed by cameras used to keep track of red light violators, traffic jams and street crimes.

Maine law bans red light cameras, but businesses such as banks routinely take your photo while you’re inside. Still, the only other street cameras in the city are along the waterfront, where they were installed with Homeland Security funding.

On Portland Street, however, it’s not backups on the Interstate that are the worry, but prostitutes on the pavement. While councilors aren’t concerned about bar patrons, they are worried about complaints from neighbors of Ricky’s Tavern that undesirables congregate in its vicinity.

Police, however, say that while there may be occasional issues of that sort, they aren’t chronic and the cops have no complaints about the bar or its patrons. Whether such cameras violate people’s privacy, however, appears to be a fairly settled area of the law — they don’t.

That’s not to downplay concerns that we are becoming a “surveillance society,” but we are still a long way from George Orwell’s nightmare vision in his novel “1984” that our TV sets are spying on us. Still, if strangers can see you or snap a photo of you without trespassing or otherwise intruding on private property, a surveillance camera can usually do the same thing.

People who don’t like that have the same right as Ricky’s neighbors to complain to the council and seek to get the decision reversed.

 


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