Chicago can use its surveillance cameras to see if a 911 caller is within 150 feet, city emergency management director Ray Orozco tells the New York Times. The technology, a computer-aided dispatch system, was funded with $6 million from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It has been in use since a trial run in December. “One of the best tools any big city can have is visual indicators like cameras, which can help save lives,” Orozco said. The new system can also connect to cameras at private sites like tourist attractions, office buildings, and university campuses. Twenty private companies have agreed to take part in the program, and 17 more are expected to be added soon. Citing security concerns, the city would not say how many cameras were in the system.
Opponents of Mayor Richard Daley's use of public surveillance cameras called the system a potential Big Brother intrusion on privacy rights. “If a 911 caller reports that someone left a backpack on the sidewalk, will the camera image of someone who appears to be of Arab or South Asian descent make police decide that person is suspicious?” asked Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union. “There seems to be this incredibly voracious appetite on the part of the city to link up cameras to the 911 system. But there are just no longitudinal statistics that prove that surveillance cameras reduce crime. They just displace crime.” Law Prof. Albert Alschuler of Northwestern University said the surveillance cameras and updated 911 system do not violate privacy rights because they are installed in public locations.