Concerns about Increased Camera Surveillance in Mass

This week’s Congressional oversight hearing following the Boston marathon bombings highlighted tensions between civil liberties and security.  During the hearings, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis urged Congress to fund more surveillance.

“Do we have to look at cameras?  Sure we do.  Do we have to look at more bomb dogs?  Do we have to look at utilizing the assets the Department of Homeland Security have provided us?  We do have to do that and its really important.”

In written testimony, Davis said his department had to rely “almost exclusively” on support from other agencies for the video surveillance that helped identify the bombers. He wrote law enforcement needs an enhanced ability to monitor public places on its own.

“What we really need to do is have a much more serious conversation about exactly what we’re doing and whether it works.”

Kade Crockford is the director of the Technology for Liberty project at the ACLU of Massachusetts. She says whenever the government says it needs more technology for safety, the public needs to ask for specifics:

“So commissioner Davis IS saying he wants more cameras, I can’t really evaluate that proposal because it’s so vague. There are so many ways in which a city can expand its surveillance camera system.”

Crockford says more security cameras at gatherings where thousands of people are expected would probably be OK. But she wonders if Davis is talking about an integrated camera system like in New York and London, which tracks a person or vehicle as they move from camera to camera. OR cameras with video analytic systems at the back end. Whatever Boston asks for, the ACLU and privacy advocates are urging the police to be open and actively engage the public in the debate.