Monday, February 14, 2011

Surveillance and Social Control in the ATL

Atlanta Police To Multiply Eyes, Ears Citywide:

This spring, the department will open a video integration center designed to compile and analyze footage from thousands of public and private security cameras throughout the city. Images from as many as 500 cameras in downtown and Midtown are expected to be flowing into the center by mid-summer.

Several metro Atlanta police agencies use cameras to bolster public safety, but the city’s new venture, which will integrate data supplied by private entities such as CNN, America’s Mart and Midtown Blue as well as public agencies such as the Federal Reserve, MARTA and the Georgia Department of Transportation, represents a whole new level of electronic surveillance.

In fact, the technology installed in the new center will be capable of much more, according to David Wilkinson, president of the Atlanta Police Foundation, which funds a camera network operated by the private security agency Midtown Blue.

Wilkinson said the center will use software that can identify suspicious activity and guide officers right to the scene of a crime as it’s occurring. In effect, the software will multiply the eyes and ears of the five to seven people per shift who will initially monitor video footage around the clock.
Just like one big video game, eh? And get this: it's going to prevent crime too.

The software includes a program called “Gun Spotter,” which automatically cues up cameras in the vicinity of the sound of gunfire, so dispatchers can get a quick jump on what happened. Other software will send images to the officers’ in-car computers and even to the screens of web-enabled smart phones.

“The real goal is to prevent the crime,” Wilkinson said. “You do that by setting up police patrols, cameras, things that deter criminal from ever committing crime.”

Of course, this is all so much salesmanship, designed to allay the fears of privacy advocates and other readers of the Constitution. In fact, these cameras prevent nothing, and most of the time lead to nothing more than video images of crimes after they have been perpetrated.

For example, the shooting in Tuscon several weeks ago produced several videos of the crime scene as captured by parking lot surveillance cameras. We also have hours of footage of some of the more infamous campus shootings, from Virginia Tech to Columbine. Some deterrent effect.

Atlanta is modeling its surveillance network after Chicago’s, which integrates data from a 10,000-camera network. This week, the Illinois ACLU issued a report demanding a moratorium on further expansion of Chicago’s system on the grounds that it represents an unacceptable threat to personal privacy.

“Cameras do not deter crime, they just displace it,” said Adam Schwartz, a lawyer for the Illinois ACLU. “It’s difficult to see where the benefits of using cameras outweighs the costs — including a vast amount of money, potential privacy invasion and a potential chilling of free speech.”

The money alone is astounding: millions in tax payer dollars going to enrich the private surveillance system industry. And what do we get for it?

Grainy footage of shadowy figures that may or may not help police; and nothing in terms of a deterrent effect whatsoever. Well done.

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