California cities are using surveillance cameras to record people’s activities with almost no public debate and few adopted policies outlining how the data will be used, says an American Civil Liberties Union analysis reported by the San Diego Union-tribune. More worrisome, the report’s authors say, is the possibility that government monitors may integrate facial-recognition and other technologies to develop databases that track individual behaviors. “Surrendering privacy does not make us safer,” said Kevin Keenan of the ACLU in San Diego. Titled “Under the Watchful Eye,” the report argues that public surveillance programs should be stopped until they are thoroughly evaluated.
ACLU researchers surveyed 131 jurisdictions and found 37 communities with some type of video program. Of those, none had undertaken a comprehensive evaluation of the cameras’ effectiveness. Eleven police agencies enacted policies to regulate use of the systems. Grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security pay for many of the programs. Last fall, the El Cajon Police Department used federal funds to buy a “sky watch” mobile tower to monitor crowds. “We’re excited about the possibilities,” El Cajon police Capt. Pat Sprecco said at the time.