A giant web of 15,000 video-surveillance cameras has spread across Chicago, aiding police in the pursuit of criminals but raising fears that the City of Big Shoulders is becoming the City of Big Brother.
While many police forces are boosting video monitoring, video-surveillance experts believe Chicago has gone further than any other U.S. city in merging computer and video technology to police the streets. The networked system is also unusual because of its scope and the integration of nonpolice cameras.
The city links the 1,500 cameras that police have placed in trouble spots with thousands more—police won't say how many—that have been installed by other government agencies and the private sector in city buses, businesses, public schools, subway stations, housing projects and elsewhere. Even home owners can contribute camera feeds.
The system is too vast for real-time monitoring by police staffers. But each time a citizen makes an emergency call, which happens about 15,000 times a day, the system identifies the caller's location and instantly puts a video feed from the nearest camera up on a screen to the left of the emergency operator's main terminal. The feeds, including ones that weren't viewed in real time, can be accessed for possible evidence in criminal cases.Chicago police started installing highly visible cameras topped by flashing blue lights back in 2003. Many were placed at locations where residents had complained about drug-dealing, and the city later said that crime decreased up to 30% in areas with cameras. But some critics complained that the cameras just pushed drug dealers to nearby street corners.
Even if cameras don't prevent crimes, "prosecution is much quicker," said Fredrik Nilsson, general manager of Axis North America, a unit of a Swedish company that makes the digital cameras used in Chicago. "When people face recorded videos, they don't go through court trials."
Britain's extraordinary march towards a surveillance state is revealed today by shocking new figures. They show that one request is made every minute for officials to spy on someone's phone records or email accounts. The number of Big Brother snooping missions by police, town halls and other public bodies has soared by 44 per cent in two years.
Last year there were 504,073 new cases - an average of 1,381 a day. It is the equivalent of one adult in 78 coming under state-sanctioned surveillance. The snoopers are using a law originally aimed at terror suspects. But their targets include people suspected of storing petrol without a licence and bringing a dog into the country without quarantining it.
Everybody's doing it...
A total of 653 state bodies, including 474 local councils, are allowed to use its surveillance powers. ...