A main issue of concern is that there is no law, standard or policy in place that governs how CCTV should be used by law enforcement in public areas.
Without guidelines, there’s virtually no policing of systems that are installed. “It will only take a few stupid applications where people haven’t really thought it out to really kill it [CCTV in public areas] long term,” says Richard Chace, director of communications for the Security Industry Association (SIA).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is seeking a moratorium on erecting high-tech cameras in places open to the public until there are laws governing usage. At the rate things are going, the possibility of any law being in place before Spring of 1999 is slim to none.
Thus, while SIA is against a moratorium, the association is working in conjunction with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) to develop protocols for installing and utilizing CCTV in public areas.
November 2-3 has been set as a tentative date for the first CCTV Summit. The objective of the summit is to “develop, debate and draft a CCTV operation protocol and code of ethics document.” The draft will then be sent out for comment, and it is hoped a second summit will be scheduled in March 1999 to finalize the protocol.
In separate interviews with Security Sales magazine, John Crew, director of the police practices project for the ACLU of Northern California, and Richard Chace of SIA debate the need for a moratorium and the desire to sell and install CCTV in public places.
Crew was instrumental in thwarting an Oakland, Calif., proposal by the city council and the police chief to use CCTV technology in public.
The fact that camera technology that is available today is sophisticated enough to zoom in on someone’s watch to read the time fuels Crew’s arguments.
Security Sales: In short, what is the ACLU’s opinion on video surveillance and why?
John Crew: When we talk about video surveillance, I think it’s important to emphasize the devil is very much in the detail and how a system is constructed - the components, technological capacity, who runs it, the areas monitored - will have a lot to do with whether ACLU has concerns.
The nutshell of our concern is that based on our research, we have found that the current generation of video surveillance systems that is being proposed and erected in a few American cities seems to be much more intrusive, much less effective and much more expensive than many people assume.
We have concerns where the government would erect a camera system, particularly the current generation of cameras with very strong capabilities to zoom in from great distances, swivel 360” and record innocent activity in public places.
People have not done justice to this issue by saying if you’re in a public place, you don’t have an expectation of privacy. That doesn’t do justice to the abilities of these cameras and the technological capacity of these cameras to really intrude on people innocently going about their lives, their associations and activities free of government surveillance and scrutiny.
It would be one thing if all these cameras did was technologically imitate the human eye, and capture only what a police officer’s eye could see if he or she was in this area. That’s not what these cameras do. They intrude in a much more invasive fashion and can allow someone to be monitored and recorded without their knowledge.
SS: Tell me about this moratorium you have requested the industry to honor?
Crew: I suggest there be a moratorium on erecting public surveillance systems using high-tech cameras with zoom capacity in areas generally open to the public.
SIA acknowledges the significant privacy concerns and acknowledges (based on the real-life experience in Great Britain during the past several years) the very great potential for this technology to be abused.
It seems to me if you’re serious about your concern for protecting people’s privacy and you’re serious about ensuring this technology not be abused, then you would want to voluntarily pause and support a moratorium to make sure the regulations are in place before more of these systems are erected.
If you expect the population to understand there is a sincere concern about privacy, you have to show some sign of your sincerity.
You can’t just say there is serious potential for abuse, but we’re not going to pause to make sure people are not abused. That doesn’t strike us as a sincere effort to deal with the problem.
Privacy concerns are taking a back seat to the profit motive.
I am also pleased that the industry supports the idea of regulations with teeth. I had proposed as a starting point using California’s privacy laws related to recorded conversations as a model. If you violate those statutes in California, you are subject to both criminal prosecution and civil penalties.
SS: Why do you believe the industry would not support a moratorium?
Richard Chace: It’s not that I don’t believe the industry would support a moratorium. It’s kind of hard to regulate something until you’ve had it actually implemented.
John [Crew] would like us to stop and then regulate. The problem with that is you don’t know what needs to be regulated unless the system is up and running.
We’ve identified the fact that there is a problem with abuse of the systems. We know that from court cases and potential legislation that’s out there. Now our job is to responsibly address each one of those concerns. There is a way to regulate this, and we want to regulate this. Certainly the industry would much rather regulate itself than have somebody else do it.
With that in mind, that’s why we’re trying to coordinate the CCTV Summit in the fall. We’re setting the groundwork for appropriate regulation.
John [Crew] complains that we’re “putting out these guidelines but so what? That’s not going to stop potential abuse of the system.”
He’s again correct. However, we’ve got to walk before we run. Once we have recommended ordinances or operational guidelines in place, we can then approach legislators and recommend how the systems be operated in public applications.
As far as teeth, how legislators devise a means to punish abusers, that’s out of our hands. We’re primarily concerned that the equipment does not get abused. When it is abused, it reflects poorly on us. Let’s not deceive ourselves, we have direct dollars tied to this. The impetus for us is great to make sure that we are proactive, positive, efficient and inclusive in the review process of how these systems are to be used.