If you think you’re being watched, you’re probably right.
The American Civil Liberties Union posted a website Monday showing that government-financed surveillance cameras are running rampant across the United States.
All the while, studies suggest they do nothing to cut down on violent crime. San Francisco, for example, has spent $700,000 for dozens of public cameras, but a University of California study (.pdf, 187 pages) just concluded there was “no evidence” they curtailed violent crime.
“Violent incidents do not decline in areas near the cameras relative to areas further away,” added the study, which noted the cameras helped police bring charges against six people accused of felony property crimes. “We observe no decline in violent crimes occurring in public places.”
But the report did show that, over the past two years, property crimes such as burglary and muggings dropped an estimated 24 percent in areas within 100 feet of San Francisco camera locations.
The ACLU’s website, “You Are Being Watched,” shows a map of the 50 U.S. states with links to news accounts about where surveillance cameras are in each state. The federal government has given state and local governments $300 million in grants to fund an ever-growing array of cameras.
Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program, said in a telephone interview that, while the cameras have helped nab suspects, he believes they provide a false sense of security.
“It’s the illusion of security … public authorities like to give the impression they are doing something about crime and terrorism,” Steinhardt said.
He said it is impossible to quantify exactly how many government-backed surveillance cameras are in the public right of way, but they are in virtually every U.S. state.
Two questions posed on the ACLU site ask: “Do we want a society where an innocent individual can’t walk down the street without being considered a potential criminal?” and “Do we want a society where people are comfortable with constant surveillance?”
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