Cameras in Pioneer Park Pose Privacy Problems, Won't Reduce Crime

Affiliate: ACLU of Utah
February 18, 2009 12:00 am

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ACLU of Utah
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SALT LAKE CITY – This afternoon, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank will announce a new Public Space Camera Policy, as well as a program that will place four surveillance cameras in Pioneer Park. Indeed, at the time of Chief Burbank’s press conference, the surveillance cameras will already be operational in the park.

The ACLU of Utah appreciates that Chief Burbank made us aware of this policy and program, and solicited our input with regards to civil liberties issues. However, we nonetheless have concerns generally with the use of surveillance cameras in public spaces, and specifically with Salt Lake City’s draft policy on Public Space Cameras. Most importantly, research shows that the presence of these cameras, which pose a threat to certain civil liberties, will not reduce crime and increase public safety, as the Police Department hopes.

Our general concerns include the following points:

• Technology can’t replace community policing; surveillance cameras are not an easy, quick fix to preventing or solving crimes. Studies of similar programs in the UK and U.S. have shown that the effectiveness of cameras in deterring crime is questionable.
• Use of surveillance tools such as cameras can be abused for personal purposes (such as voyeurism) or to target individuals on the basis of race, gender or other classification.
• Surveillance cameras can have a chilling impact on First Amendment-protected gatherings, such as protest rallies and union meetings.

For these and other reasons, cities around the U.S. have backed away from the use of surveillance cameras in the pursuit of public safety. The city of Cambridge, Mass., recently voted to ban the use of surveillance cameras because it concluded the potential threats to invasion of privacy and individual civil liberties outweighed the purported benefits. A recent study in San Francisco, Calif., concluded that cameras used there failed in their mission of reducing violent crime and did not make people safer.

Our specific concerns with the Salt Lake City draft policy include, but are not limited to, the following points:

• The policy does not explicitly outline how members of the general public will be able to seek redress, should surveillance cameras be abused in any way. Legally-enforceable regulations are needed to ensure that the public has an avenue of recourse, should the cameras be used inappropriately or in violation of an individual’s civil liberties.
• The section of the policy called “Record Keeping” does not specify the extent to which images and/or logs of recordings will be shared with governmental or non-governmental agencies, groups and organizations. Residents and community members deserve assurances as to how this information will be “shared” outside the Salt Lake Police Department.
• Once such a system is in place, the established technological infrastructure is open to improper use and abuse. While we appreciate that it is not the goal of the Police Department to use these cameras for purposes other than preventing or solving crimes, these cameras could be used in a problematic fashion. We ask that guarantees be made to members of the general public that cameras will not be used in a discriminatory fashion or to monitor activity that is protected by the First Amendment.

The ACLU of Utah remains very concerned that the civil liberty costs of video surveillance systems, coupled with the limited success of such systems in decreasing crime, raise serious doubts about the appropriateness of their implementation in Salt Lake City.

The American Civil Liberties Union nationally is involved with many civil liberties cases pertaining to public surveillance. For more information, visit We also recommend visiting the website of the ACLU of Northern California to review the report, “Under the Watchful Eye: The Proliferation of Video Surveillance Systems in California,”

Learn more about the ACLU of Utah’s programs and priorities in our state at

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