‘War on Terrorism’ Is Warping Common Sense
CCTV has expanded dramatically the past two decades. This has been great for the business and effectiveness of security, and bad for crooks.
Videotapes and digital recordings are very beneficial law enforcement tools that help identify, apprehend and convict perpetrators. They also provide valuable clues that can shape the direction of an investigation. In addition, these systems reduce the costs of patrol staffing and increase security personnel efficiency. It’s no wonder security cameras have become such a ubiquitous presence in buildings and applications, big and small alike.
Generally, CCTV systems are classified as either active or passive. Active systems – such as those in prisons and casinos – are continuously monitored by security personnel. These people are trained to call up cameras instantly when warranted, respond to events as they arise and direct appropriate resources to ensure problems are dealt with quickly. Passive systems, on the other hand – such as those used in banks and convenience stores – record video at certain scheduled intervals without human intervention, and the images are viewed only after an incident has occurred.
It’s important to realize that the majority of systems deployed today are passive and, as wonderful as CCTV is, unmonitored video surveillance is much more effective as a deterrent than as a means to halt crimes in progress. This crucial fact often seems to go by the wayside – especially when discussing the always-controversial topic of public CCTV – as an article I recently saw in the Baltimore Sun illustrates.
The story reported that Maryland’s Director of Homeland Security was advocating the city of Baltimore deploy a regional network of cameras. According to the article, invasion-of-privacy concerns were raised since the plan called for the cameras to be continuously monitored by retired police officers and college students. In response, the official was quoted as declaring, “We’re at war!” My question is: Who are we at war with? The citizens of Baltimore?!
The city’s request for proposal states, “The purpose of the system is to provide for homeland defense while also reducing crime and public disorder. Cameras will only observe and record that which a police officer or private citizen could legally see.” What does that mean? I guess zoom lenses are out of the question!
The story goes on to say, “Although dozens of surveillance cameras already exist throughout downtown Baltimore to deter crime, those images are generally recorded and only occasionally reviewed. The new network, financed by grants from the Department of Homeland Security, is aimed at fighting terrorists as much as drug dealers.”
I guess whoever the next terrorist will be is going to wait until the camera is actively monitored by a human and pointed in his or her direction before making a move. Talk about trying to find a needle in a haystack! Most likely, the incident will take place and then be reviewed by Baltimore officials several days after the fact.
The world has changed dramatically and today’s terrorists are much more brazen, innovative and willing to die for their cause. Therefore, we must change the way we combat them. How? Through proactive intelligence gathering and covert operations. Through seeking out informants and infiltrating them. These are the techniques used to take down the New York crime families and the Colombian drug lords, and they are the only realistic ways to make a dent in preventing terrorism.
Installing a street camera whose captured images are recorded and occasionally reviewed while waiting for Osama Bin Laden or his compatriots to show up is nonsense. The aspect of the Baltimore news item and so many others like it that unnerves me the most is not a city’s interest in public video surveillance systems. It’s that it seems politicians increasingly push their own agendas and urge greater government intervention, all while pulling the wool over the public’s eyes by exploiting the guise of “Homeland Security.”
What do you think?
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