News

Get Ready for Your Close-Up

Did the Boston Bombings Blow Up What Little Resistance America Had Left to Surveillance Cameras?

Get Ready for Your Close-Up

George Pfromm II

The choppy, low-resolution videos of the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects released by the FBI last Thursday were disappointing. They didn't show the men head-on because, presumably, they didn't have those images yet.

Shouldn't the government have had more footage, better footage?

That line of thinking—which I shared at the time—has since spurred politicians and media to bellow for more video surveillance of US cities. "I do think we need more cameras," GOP representative Peter King of New York said in response to the bombings. Later that week, Slate declared, "We Need More Cameras, and We Need Them Now," in a piece saying, "We should think about how cameras could help prevent crimes, not just solve them once they've already happened." And Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel added that more cameras are "not just for big events like a marathon, but day-to-day purposes."

After all, more surveillance is easy to pull off. Video cameras are relatively inexpensive, storing data gets easier and easier, and law enforcement has never met a camera it didn't like (except cameras designed to record cops, naturally). England has roughly four million cameras, and London has an estimated half-million. By comparison, US cities have very few. After 9/11, about 3,000 surveillance cameras were installed in Lower Manhattan, which served as an example of how after a terrorist attack, America's traditional resistance to casual surveillance can get blown up by the terrorists, too.

Because of how much fear a terrorist attack can incite, "typically, there is a public response to try to throw everything we can at a problem like this so it doesn't happen again," says Adam Molnar, a PhD candidate conducting research on security for major sporting events at the University of Victoria.

In Seattle recently, Mayor Mike McGinn shut down a Seattle Police Department drone program after the public protested their use and even city officials questioned drones' efficacy in fighting crime. Meanwhile, whether or not the city will turn on a network of federally funded surveillance cameras in West Seattle remains contentious. Outside of Seattle, though, a lot of prominent voices are calling for more surveillance.

But whether cameras make us significantly safer is debatable. The BBC recently reported that for every 1,000 cameras in London, only one crime is solved. And whether they prevent crime, as Slate suggests, is even more disputed. The crime rate in London didn't drop after spending the equivalent of $807 million on cameras. The New York Times also reported in 2009 that "New York University says they do not deter it much, if at all," and out of four other studies, only one found a drop in serious crimes while three others were inconclusive. Some research finds that perpetrators of serious crimes may avoid cameras, simply displacing where terrorist attacks might occur, Molnar says.

Granted, in the case of marathons, more cameras seem pragmatic (at least as temporary installations). But does that mean they should be everywhere else? Every city corner, every park, every coastline? Should we put them up now and leave them up indefinitely?

"We're concerned about America becoming a place in which cameras are so pervasive that we can't go about our lives without being tracked by the government," says Jamela Debelak, technology and liberty director for the ACLU of Washington. She adds that we need "controls on how long data is stored, and there should be public input on the policies."

The question isn't whether cameras should ever be used (again, everyone agrees that sometimes they should be), but how much America throws itself whole-hog—along with billions of dollars—into permanent video surveillance.

Yes, yes, I know. Cameras are already around, our online activity is already watched, our privacy is already lost. Under that line of thinking, what does it matter if the government installs a few million new cameras in urban centers?

Consider our nation's reaction to 9/11: Afghanistan, Iraq, a spike in hate crimes against racial minorities, the Patriot Act. While I don't disagree with everything the United States did—we should try to dismantle Al Qaeda, for example—invading Iraq (based in part on faulty surveillance) was a drastic overreaction, so I'm skeptical of our government's knee-jerk reaction to terrorism.

Should we react to the Boston bombings with the same blind patriotism as we did with 9/11?

Raising this sort of question may be politically toxic right now (lots of experts declined to comment for this article), but raising tough questions about the Patriot Act and the Iraq war was politically toxic at the time, too—and raising questions about the Patriot Act and the Iraq war was the right thing to do.

"Even though this [bombing] is a very rare event, we tend to exaggerate the threat going down the road," Molnar says, referring to the Boston Marathon. "We are not just introducing technology to prevent, deter, or enhance the possibility for arrest and capture, we are also changing the way we relate to one another."

"We turn communities of trust into communities of fear," he warns.

We should react to the knee-jerk calls for more surveillance—"more" and "now"—with a whole lot of skepticism. No matter the rah-rah rhetoric from politicians or the media, we need to take our time in questioning the evidence to decide whether permanent surveillance networks in US cities are the security panacea they're made out to be. Even if it's not the popular thing to do. recommended

 

Comments (32) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
1
You already see surveillance cameras everywhere. They're called cell phones. Any random person on the street can take video of you, legally, and then post it up on the internet for all to see.

I'm more frightened about the fact that Boston convinced itself to stay under house arrest for the better part of a week.
Posted by treehugger on April 24, 2013 at 10:21 AM · Report this
GlibReaper 2
Cameras are worrisome, but they're not the current source of mass surveillance. That would be tower dumps, something from which cellular carriers profit (except Verizon):

http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/techno…
Posted by GlibReaper on April 24, 2013 at 10:36 AM · Report this
rob! 3
"Did the Boston Bombings Blow Up What Little Resistance America Had Left to Surveillance Cameras?"

Don't know about that, but they seem to have let some air out of the opposition to digital billboards—unfortunately:

http://www.marketplace.org/topics/busine…

Note that the FBI thinks they'd be useful, and Rahm Emanuel is salivating over the $15 million in fees that 30 new digital billboards would drop in Chicago's municipal coffers.
Posted by rob! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZBdUceCL5U on April 24, 2013 at 10:58 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 4
@1: Police first asked people to stay indoors Friday morning (according to the AP), and the suspect was caught Friday night.

Since when is most of a day "the better part of a week," and since when is voluntarily staying indoors under the threat of no penalty "house arrest?"

This whole "martial law" conspiracy thing somehow just keeps getting stupider and stupider.
Posted by Theodore Gorath on April 24, 2013 at 12:06 PM · Report this
5
Police in Boston seem to have found the bombers quickly with mostly private video and images that were captured by private entities and provided voluntarily to the police. Our government should not record our every move outside the home, stockpiling everything they can about us, just in case it's useful later.
Posted by Phil M http://twitter.com/pmocek on April 24, 2013 at 7:09 PM · Report this
Texas10R 6
There is no such thing as "footage" from hard drive or flash memory audio or video recordings.

There is no such thing as "videotaping" on one's cell phone.

Surveillance "filming" is right out (except under very specific circumstances).

And of course, it doesn't help when many emergency vehicles still display the obsolete "telephone" icon along with the phrase "Dial 9-1-1".

Unless you are the "Man from Glad" or Dick Tracy, use appropriate technical terms, especially if you are in the the business of news reporting (or aspire to such), even if those terms might bewilder your nearest known octogenarian.

-Unauthorised proxy of William Strunk, Jr.
Posted by Texas10R on April 24, 2013 at 7:21 PM · Report this
7
@4, Theodore wrote, "Police first asked people to stay indoors Friday morning (according to the AP)"

Oh, yeah?

PBS: "Boston Stayed On Edge and Inside After Police Ordered City Lockdown" http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/terrorism…

Bretibart TV: "Presser: commissioner explains that local man who had obeyed orders to stay inside saw blood in backyard when he left his home, led to the boat where suspect was hiding. Man reported his finding to police" http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/…

CNN: "A recap of what authorities are telling Boston-area residents to do: Police ordered businesses in the suburb of Watertown and nearby communities to stay closed and told residents to stay inside and answer the door for no one but authorities. [...] A `stay indoors' order has been lifted in Boston" http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/19/liv…

Posted by Phil M http://twitter.com/pmocek on April 24, 2013 at 7:26 PM · Report this
8
So...how do you really know that the West Seattle cameras are actually not turned on and already sending surveillance video?
Posted by See no evil...especially before the election on April 24, 2013 at 7:48 PM · Report this
9
http://www.youtube.com/embed/13BahrdkMU8…
Posted by somethingtowatch on April 24, 2013 at 8:38 PM · Report this
10
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARGUS-IS

Interesting technology for surveillance. There is a nice bit of video on youtube from the NOVA program.
Posted by foodforthought on April 24, 2013 at 8:43 PM · Report this
Texas10R 11
@7 ["Bretibart TV"]

What are you saying, chump?

If you want to cite an dubious source, at least take a swing at the correct spelling: B-R-E-I-T-B-A-R-T.


The bomber dude [Dzhokhar Tsarnaev] in the boat was ID'd and surrounded within minutes of the lifting of the requested "lockdown" which was not universally observed, as noted by a local butcher-deli owner who was selling briskly to local people (and probably cops) in need of sandwich bread and meat cuts with which to endure the manhunt in progress.

What a schmuck.

Posted by Texas10R on April 24, 2013 at 8:55 PM · Report this
inquiastador 12
treehugger- Boston folks heeded the call to stay indoors in order to allow the cops to do a very important job. It happens once in a blue moon. You may not have been wanting to be walking the streets yourself during that necessarily massive and urgent manhunt. Get some perspective.
Posted by inquiastador on April 24, 2013 at 9:22 PM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 13
@7: Nothing in those links contradicts anything I said, and you are using Breitbart and a CNN blog, both sources not even to be taken seriously.

You suck at this.
Posted by Theodore Gorath on April 25, 2013 at 6:58 AM · Report this
14
Are people in London less free than the people in Seattle? If so, in what way?
Posted by billwald on April 25, 2013 at 5:02 PM · Report this
15 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
16
There already are cameras everywhere.

Everywhere.
Posted by you_are_stupid_no_really on April 25, 2013 at 9:30 PM · Report this
17
The first place for cameras should be near the ugly sculpture park. The fuckwits who inflicted that eyesore on us are going to want to know who the vandals were so they can be prosecuted for crimes against art.
Posted by Unbrainwashed on April 26, 2013 at 5:25 AM · Report this
18
Yes it would be nice if people would behave in a civilized manor but they don’t. They graffiti buildings and things vandalizing and terrorizing neighborhoods. They break into cars or just vandalize them. They commit armed robberies or just physically attack people. As a victim of these people I regret not having any tool to aid in the identification or capture and prosecution of them.

I am currently in a situation as a victim of perpetual sporadic vandalism. This terrorist, for the last year has repeatedly vandalized the same object on our property. We repair the damage, a week or so goes by and it is vandalized again. What other choice do I have but to use a camera. I can't camp out it wont happen and I shouldn't have to and I should not have to buy cameras either to capture these images of the vandal in action.

We should not need security guards or cameras everywhere. I can't figure out who this terrorist is and you begin to suspect everyone and I can't think of a way stop it from happening. There does not appear to be a reason for it other than the shear enjoyment of the act. Is there another way to catch these vandals these domestic terrorists. How do you reason with a person with such a mental disorder.

The damage is very expensive in monetary terms but the perhaps more mentally to me and everyone exposed to it. I hate the thought of video cameras everywhere and I hate these people for making it necessary. If anyone has another solution please share it with us here otherwise I am buying cameras because I can not think of a better way to catch these awful people.
Posted by Victim of Vandals on April 26, 2013 at 9:06 AM · Report this
19
Me thinks Holden has too much pot on the brain, which might explain why he's been so obsessed with the Marijuana issue!

"..invading Iraq (based in part on faulty surveillance) was a drastic overreaction."

WTF? ? ?

Since it has been well documented that the Cheney/Bush administration was planning to invade Iraq long prior to 9/11/01, what the bloody hell are you smoking, dood????

And where the bloody hell is any real journalism in your article, dood?

"Should we react to the Boston bombings with the same blind patriotism as we did with 9/11?"

I'm sorry, dood, but it was Dan "let's invade Iraq" Savage, and stooges of that ilk, who demonstrated your nihilistic imperialistic American exceptionalism, not those of use who protested any illegal invasion of Iraq. (Does it get better for the Iraqis, Holden, dood?)

http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-boston-…

http://www.privacysos.org/node/1041

http://www.privacysos.org/node/1040

Posted by sgt_doom on April 26, 2013 at 1:44 PM · Report this
20
Seriously, Holden, have you ever read the Warren Commission Report?

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report?

The 9/11 Commission Report?

Any legislation whatsoever?

No offense, sonny, but you sound more and more like a complete douchebag.

Go back and review the Pentagon's comptroller talk given on 9/10/01, then review the victims of that airliner crashing dead center into the west wall of the Pentagon.

Posted by sgt_doom on April 26, 2013 at 1:47 PM · Report this
21
Now the rest of you will know a little more how it feels to be a poor person of color in AmeriKKKa!
Posted by 5th Columnist on April 26, 2013 at 4:52 PM · Report this
22
People have already forgotten that the first "suspect" was falsely identifed, and was so scared he ran to the police station to clear his name. So much for the theory of "if I have not done anything wrong, I nothing to worry about." You can say that he was eventually cleared, but in other situations, there will still be a strong residual effect for awhile, like the guy who was falsely exonerated for the bombings in Atlanta during the Olympics.

Besides, even with all that surveillance around already, they could not get a positive ID from face recognition apps. It was luck that someone happened to get a closeup clear picture, recognize the similarities, and forward it to LE.

Mass surveillance does not prevent these kinds of things from happening, and does not guarantee identification. In fact there are so many ways to circumvent it, that you have to count on people being so numb to it's ubiquity, they don't think about it.

Beware when someone tells you it makes you more "secure" and that is the justification to get you to roll over. It does not. But it does makes the defense and surveillance industry money.

Next up: Surveillance drones...
Posted by Nemo on April 26, 2013 at 6:18 PM · Report this
23
Ooops, Word missing: I meant to say falsely ACCUSED and exonerated...
Posted by Nemo on April 26, 2013 at 6:20 PM · Report this
24
Theo Groath said:
Police first asked people to stay indoors Friday morning (according to the AP), and the suspect was caught Friday night.

Since when is most of a day "the better part of a week," and since when is voluntarily staying indoors under the threat of no penalty "house arrest?"

This whole "martial law" conspiracy thing somehow just keeps getting stupider and stupider.
It's the slippery slope thing: A non-binding request today is a curfew enforced by gun-toting steroid mutations in Kevlar tomorrow. The testosterone junkies who tote their steel balls around in the trunk of their squad car (and that's just the lesbians at the SPD would love this.

SHOW ME YOUR FUCKING PAPERS! NOW!
Posted by Arthur Zifferelli on April 30, 2013 at 12:55 PM · Report this
25
Nematoad said:
People have already forgotten that the first "suspect" was falsely identifed, and was so scared he ran to the police station to clear his name. So much for the theory of "if I have not done anything wrong, I nothing to worry about." You can say that he was eventually cleared...
That had NOTHING to do with the use of cameras by the authorities, it had to do with jack-asses on Redit playing cop.
Posted by Arthur Zifferelli on April 30, 2013 at 1:04 PM · Report this
26
If someone is intent on committing a crime --- or even a terrorist bombing act, cameras will do nothing to stop him/her. Even the most sophisticated facial recognition camera/software can be fooled. New innovations in disguises are popping up all over the place and will continue to grow. Even a good Hollywood make-up artist can fool facial recognition software. Then you have the weather. Heavy snowfall and rainfall. Also, no one can stop a suicide bomber --- if that rears its ugly head in the USA.

I believe that all this surveillance is being used for much more than preventing crime. Just imagine all your stores equipped with not just cameras but the same "sophisticated" facial recognition software that the government is using on its citizens. Facebook is using it also. I suspect that it is all going to be used to improve the bottom line somehow.
Posted by Pluto in Capricorn on April 30, 2013 at 1:15 PM · Report this
27
I'll support surveillance cameras provide the public has full access to the live feeds and archives 24x7 and NOT just the "authorities" as a means of full citizen oversight. It is the only way to answer the question of posed in ancient Rome "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" (e.g.., who will watch the watcher?) Otherwise, no thank you.
Posted by Nil on May 1, 2013 at 12:44 AM · Report this
28
I have nothing wrong with surveillance cameras going up provided:

(1) Cameras go up in with the coverage density in wealthy neighborhoods and business areas in the same numbers as in poor and middle-class neighborhoods and business areas; and

(2) EVERYONE as 24x7 access to the live feeds and all archived footage in it's unedited format -- not just the "authorities."

This will ensure there is proper civilian oversight of said "authorities" at all times and answer the age old question asked way back in Rome of "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" To wit: We, the People shall be watching, too.

It's the only way to keep authorities honest and to prevent them from editing out or hiding their own misdeeds.
Posted by Nil on May 1, 2013 at 12:56 AM · Report this
29
after boston? nothing happened there! 1st and foremost if u me and anyone else in the world can get on google earth and see any location, house, building or whatever for free, then if we pay 400-500 dollars a year we can put a 24/7 watch on any location in the world that we want 2, U ME AND WE MUST REALIZE THAT IF THOSE TWO KIDS WITH THERE BACK PAKS REALLY PLACED THEM BOMBS DOWN THERE IN BOSTON THAT WE WOULD BE SHOWN THIS EVIDENCE THERE ARE SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS IN SEATTLE PRIVATE, PUBLIC, AND OTHER, THIS BEING SAID THEY ARE ALL OVER THE WORLD AND THEY ARE ALL THROUGH OUT OUR SOLAR SYTEM, SO JUST AS A COMMON JOE THAT CAN GET ONLINE AND WATCH U SEE U AND RECORD U YOU U NOW MUST KNOW THAT THEE UNCOMMON JOES ARE AT LEAST 20 LIGHT YEAR STEPS ABOVE THIS MEDIOCRE TECHNOLOGY THAT U AND EY3 THINK WE KNOW SUMMEN ABOUT! I WILL END MY COMMENT BY SAYING THAT ANY CRIME OF SIGNIFICANCE FOR THE LAST 15-20 YEARS THAT HAVE GONE UNSOLVED HAVE GONE UNSOLVED BECAUSE THE POWERS AND ENTITIES IN CONTROL DID NOT CARE TO SOLVE THEM FOR MANY DIFFERENT REASONS, MOSTLY BIG 6 MEDIA CONGLOMERATE REASONS AND IF YA DONT KNOW WHO THEY ARE THEN U ARE EXACTLY THE PEOPLE THEY RELY ON EVERYDAY ALL DAY YEAR MOTHERFUCKING ROUND
Posted by TUNEINSEATTLE on May 1, 2013 at 6:05 AM · Report this
30
this is only a test people, a test of your fear, your belief in media, your trust in government, and ist and foremost a test of what and how u may react if you dont like what they tell u, and what they tell u to do! come on! i dont wanna sound cold but how many people died that day i n Boston? and now that some daXe have past how many BIG 6 MEDIA CONGLOMERATE MUSICIANS (NOT REAL TRUE ARTISTS) HAVE STARTED AID AND RELIEF FUNDS TO HELP BOSTON AND ITS VICTIMS? ITS BUSHSHIT-KINGS AND QUEERS'S AND HOMOSEXUAL'S DONT GET YOU PANTIES IN A BUNCH I DO NOT MEAN THAT AS DISRESPECT TOWARDS YOU INFACT I ADMIRE YOU FOR TRUELLY BEING WHO U ARE AND WANT TO BE, BUT PLEASE KNOW ALL THIS GAY RIGHTS SHIT AND I WANT TO BE TREAted fair shit is because they the big 6 media conglomerats that run all of this world and the next one atre using you fine people as a distraction to the real situation at hand which is to suppress all of us and create more hate and strife that the bi6 od so capitalizes on every motherfucking day because of our one sided ignorance that we have been taught since about the time we were 3 years old! now get to work, shut the fuck up, have fun, resperct everyone, take care of yourself, and quit believing there fucked uP BUSHSHIT! IF U THINK GEORGE WASHINGTON WAS AMERICAS FIRST PRESIDENT AND THAT OBOMA IS AMERICAS 1ST BLACK PRESIDENT THEN U HAVE BEEN BELIEVING LIES THAT SPAN OVE A 200 YEAR PLUS SPAND IN UNAMERICAN HISTORY TAUGHT TO DECIEVE U ME HE AND HER! AND YA'LL MOTHERFUCKERS LOOK AT COLOR OF SKIN AND SEXUAL PREFERANCE AS AN ISSUE! LMMBIAO
Posted by TUNEINSEATTLE on May 1, 2013 at 6:22 AM · Report this
31
AND DONT CORRECT MY TYPE O's
Posted by TUNEINSEATTLE on May 1, 2013 at 6:25 AM · Report this
slithers 32
The Iraq invasion was not based on "faulty surveillance" in the sense you mean - it was based on lies (or, if you like "manufactured surveillance reports"), that's what the Valerie Plame scandal stemmed from. So it's not salient to the preponderance of video cameras.

However, I agree that we should have less surveillance and more measured / reasoned responses to crimes/terrorism - responses which account for our citizens quality of life and minimize violence.
Posted by slithers on August 9, 2013 at 10:14 AM · Report this

Add a comment