The next time you visit the nation's capital, your every move may be watched and recorded. The DC Police Department, without public knowledge or city council approval, has set up a centralized video surveillance network. The system can bring together video feeds from police cameras on streets and buildings, in neighborhoods, within the city's subway system and even at public schools. With the flip of a switch, officers can zoom in on people a half-mile away.
The implicit justification for the video surveillance system is security. But it is far from clear how the proliferation of video cameras through public spaces in D.C. would have any real impact on crime. In fact in England, where there are so many public cameras that they have stopped keeping count, incidents of violent crime have risen since the network was installed. Furthermore, in Oakland, CA, officials considered video surveillance for three years and rejected it. Police Chief Joseph Samuels, Jr., stated that his department had hoped to be ""?among the pioneers in the field of taped video camera surveillance"" but ultimately found that ""there is no conclusive way to establish that the presence of video surveillance resulted in the prevention or reduction of crime.""
Instead, tourists, opposition politicians, racial and ethnic minorities, peaceful dissidents and other people could have their every move catalogued and tracked. This system of cameras could be used to monitor peaceful protests and the movement of innocent people throughout the city. This information could then be mishandled and used to blackmail, intimidate or bully people who are exercising their freedom of speech, freedom to peaceful assembly, or just going about their daily lives.
This is not just a local issue and not only because D.C. is our nation's capital. This system would make D.C. the first city in the nation to have comprehensive video surveillance and unless it is stopped, other cities and communities will inevitably follow its example.
The DC City Council is going to hold hearings on video surveillance next week. By urging the city council and the District's official tourist agency to shut down the video surveillance network, we can ensure that funds earmarked for this system are instead invested in proven police practices instead of expanding an expensive, ineffective, easily abused surveillance system.
Oppose the D.C. surveillance network!
Surveillance networks are ineffective
Camera supporters in the DC police department have largely stopped claiming that that their system would prevent terrorism. The real reason cameras are deployed is to reduce much pettier crimes, such as auto break-ins. But it has not been proven they accomplish even that. Studies of cameras' effect on crime in Britain, where they have been extensively deployed, have found no evidence that they reduce crime. It would be far more effective to spend the millions of dollars dedicated to this system on community policing rather than intrusive, ineffective, high-tech super-systems.
Video surveillance is susceptible to abuse.
Fully operational, Washington's centralized network of cameras would become an incredibly powerful surveillance tool - that will inevitably be abused. In the UK, cameras are disproportionately trained on people of color and used for video voyeurism by the bored male camera operators who focus on women. In 1997 a top-ranking police official in Washington, DC was caught using police databases to gather information on patrons of a gay club. By looking up the license plate numbers of cars parked at the club and researching the backgrounds of the vehicles' owners, he tried to blackmail patrons who were married. Imagine what someone could do with a citywide spy-camera system.
If this system is implemented in the nation's capital, everyone loses.
This is not just a local issue. Washington is our nation's capital and contains many of our most symbolic and historic public spaces. This system would make D.C. the first city in the nation to have comprehensive video surveillance and unless it is stopped, other cities and communities will inevitably follow its example. We must not allow Main Street USA to become Surveillance Central.