After Boston, Use of Public Cameras Sparks Privacy Debate

Monday, 22 Apr 2013 09:53 AM

By Melanie Batley

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Lawmakers have begun debating the cost and benefits again of using public surveillance cameras as an anti-terrorism measure in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, where authorities relied heavily on video footage to hunt down suspects last week.

Some argue the widespread use of cameras poses a threat to privacy, The Hill reported Monday, while others argue there can no longer be any expectation of privacy in public when living under the threat of terrorism.

“I think in the larger cities [more cameras would be good], to the extent that people are willing to accept [them],” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul.

“In smaller towns, you’re going to have people who have privacy issues and they don’t want cameras. But in New York it’s pretty effective, and in larger cities,” the Texas Republican added.

The use of cameras has skyrocketed since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. By one estimate, 30 million cameras have been sold in the United States in the last decade. They're being used for everything from security surveillance to monitoring speeding and other traffic violations.

Proponents of adding more surveillance cameras in public areas contend they are the best way to prevent attacks or track-down suspects, particularly in urban areas.

“If you walk down the street, anyone can look at you, anyone can see where you’re going. You have no expectation of privacy when you’re out in public,” Rep. Peter King, former chairman of the Homeland Security panel and member of the Intelligence Committee, told The Hill.

“This is not looking into someone’s home or doing something that would require a search warrant. We’re talking about something which is out in the open,” the New York Republican added.

But opponents claim the widespread use of cameras could impinge on civil liberties by intruding on the public’s right to privacy.

“There are appropriate uses for security cameras at large public events or at government buildings that are known targets,” said Michael German, a senior policy counsel for the ACLU and former FBI special agent.

“What we don’t want to happen is for millions of innocent Americans to have to be surveilled constantly anytime they go out in public and for the government to maintain databases of those public movements. That doesn’t necessarily improve security,” German said.

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