Updated 02/08/11 – 4:30 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Richard M. Daley has rejected a call from the American Civil Liberties Union to stop expanding use of surveillance cameras and to require authorities to have probable cause before zooming in on anyone with a city camera.
On Monday, the ACLU of Illinois issued a report claiming there are about 10,000 cameras in Chicago, including cameras operated by police, public schools, public transit and private businesses linked to the city’s 911 Center.
The ACLU said the city shouldn’t add any more cameras to the city’s surveillance network, because it’s an invasion of privacy.
Harvey Grossman, legal director of the ACLU of Illinois, said there’s the potential for wrongful conduct when it comes to the cameras in the city, and there needs to be some sort of regulation. The ACLU wants the city to stop installing new cameras and to limit the ability to zoom in on people, to use facial recognition technology and to track someone’s movement.
“The system is capable of tracking people, it is capable of recognizing people by their face, by biometrics and in addition, it’s capable of zooming,” Grossman said.
The ACLU said the city should show probable cause before using those tactics.
As WBBM Newsradio 780 Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports, Daley rejected those demands on Tuesday.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780 Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports
Daley said the surveillance is a cost-effective way to help police fight crime.
“What cameras are, is to prevent crime, to tell criminals, ‘Yes, you are going to be focused,'” Daley said Tuesday. “We’re not spying on anybody. This is the public way. … We’re not spying on anyone or identifying anyone, or racially profiling anyone. We’re not.”
Daley also said it would be impractical to ask a judge to find there’s probable cause before zooming in.
“Ask a judge who’s sleeping tonight, at 2 o’clock in the morning, and say ‘Judge, we have probable cause, the person is walking down 22nd Street,'” Daley said. “By the time we get there the person’s already at Halsted Street.”
As CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot reports, virtually anywhere in the city, if you look around, you’ll probably spot a surveillance camera.
There are red light cameras, security surveillance cameras and police “blue light” pod cameras.
At the intersection of Madison and Halsted Streets, there are five separate surveillance cameras visible.
Blue-light cameras have been strategically placed in high-crime areas since 2003. As a whole, Chicago Police have praised the initiative, and Mayor Richard M. Daley has said it has helped authorities respond more quickly to crimes and helped make thousands of arrests.
At the same time, the public has different opinions on the subject too.
Pedestrian Mark Bodnar said, “It’s a violation of my rights.”
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, when the police blue light camera program first began, many city residents praised the system. However, the main complaint for some was that gangs and criminals had transferred their activity from major streets with cameras to side streets without them.
The system has been called the most extensive and integrated camera network of any U.S. city by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
In the Bucktown neighborhood Tuesday morning, some people still said the cameras are helpful for fighting crime.
“I actually think they keep us safe,” one man said. “So long as no one’s dong anything private in the corner, no one’s invading your privacy. So as long as it’s not in my living room window, it’s OK.”
“There’s no invasion of privacy because it’s obvious that the camera is there,” another man said. “So if everybody knows that the camera is there, why don’t you operate is if the camera is there and don’t do anything illegal.”
A spokesperson for the city’s Office of Emergency Management said there are standards are in place for those trained to use the cameras. Supervisors monitor those who are watching surveillance video and workers must log into the system with a personal ID.
OEMC denied that the city has facial recognition software and said that only objects, not people are tracked using cameras in the city.
The ACLU said there needs to be a full review of the city’s cameras, saying city officials won’t release basic information like the exact number, cost and any incidents of misuse.
Those concerns, along with city officials’ plans for expansion, put Chicago a step closer to a Big Brother invasion of privacy, the ACLU alleged.
“Chicago’s camera network invades the freedom to be anonymous in public places, a key aspect of the fundamental American right to be left alone,” the report states. “Each of us then will wonder whether the government is watching and recording us when we walk into a psychiatrist’s office, a reproductive health care center, a political meeting, a theater performance, or a bookstore.”
The network includes private cameras and those installed by city agencies, like the Chicago Transit Authority. While many of the cameras are visible – like those with flashing blue lights affixed to street poles – countless others are unmarked.
City officials have been tight-lipped about how many cameras Chicago has in place, but no one has disputed that there are at least 10,000, including more than 4,000 installed by Chicago Public Schools and at least 1,000 at O’Hare International Airport.
In its report, the ACLU outlined three specific technologies that exceed the powers of ordinary human observation and increase the government’s power to watch the public: zoom, facial recognition capacity and automatic tracking.
“Chicago’s growing camera network is part of an expanding culture of surveillance in America. Combined with other government surveillance technologies, cameras can turn our lives into open books for government scrutiny,” the report says.
“Chicago’s camera network chills and deters lawful expressive activities protected by the First Amendment, like attending a political demonstration in the public way.”
ACLU officials said the city declined to give the group information on the cameras, including a tour of its operation center, statistics on crime and cost estimates. According to the report, surrounding communities have paid hefty sums for cameras; suburban Cicero has 30 cameras which cost $580,000.
The group said that money could be better spent on adding more police officers to Chicago streets, among other things. It added that there has been little research showing the cameras deter crime.
In addition to the moratorium, the agency recommended more public input, regular audits, rules and regulation on who can view the images, public notice before installing a camera and disclosure of any abuse. The report cites cases in other cities where “male camera operators have ogled women.”
Public complaints about the cameras haven’t been widespread and are generally limited to those who get caught for a minor offense or if the cameras fail to record a violent attack.
Authorities say cameras played a prominent role in several high-profile cases. Footage from a city bus camera helped persuade a suspected gang member to plead guilty to shooting a 16-year-old high school student in 2007. Cameras helped police determine that the 2009 death of a school board president was a suicide.
Chicago Police spokeswoman Lt. Maureen Biggane said she had not seen the ACLU report.
“The Chicago Police Department is committed to safeguarding the civil liberties of city residents and visitors alike,” she said in a statement.
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