ACLU Fights Gulfport Police Plan to Use Surveillance Cameras

January 6, 1999 12:00 am

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GULFPORT, MS — Surveillance cameras will be mounted in public areas and monitored by the Gulfport Police Department, if the department’s request for federal funding is approved, the Sun Tribune reported.

The police department says the cameras will help police monitor high crime areas and would function as a deterrent to criminals. The ACLU of Mississippi says the mounting of government-monitored cameras on telephone and light poles violate citizen’s right to privacy.

“I think people are too ready to see the latest gimmick because of their fear of crime, without considering the constitutional example it sets,” Mississippi ACLU Executive Director David Ingebretsen told the Sun Herald. “These cameras would also monitor ordinary citizens. There is a potential for abuse.

“Let’s say you’re hanging out in an area you don’t want your wife to know about, and police recognize you,” Ingebretsen added. “You may be doing something unsavory, but not criminal. The benefit is just not worth the risk.”

Ingebretsen also doubts the effectiveness of surveillance cameras as a crime-fighting tool. In New York City, for example, the presence of surveillance cameras for 22 months in Times Square resulted in only 10 arrests, according to the Sun Herald. The cameras were later removed.

The city and the North Gulfport Civic Organization unsuccessfully tried for a $260,000 federal grant in 1996 to install surveillance cameras, the Sun Herald reported.

Surveillance cameras are used by businesses, schools, banks, convenience stores and department stores. They are used by police departments in cities nationwide, although none are currently being used in Mississippi, the Sun Herald reported.

“I know these cameras are omnipresent in private businesses,” Ingebretsen said, “but you do have a right to expect that your government is not watching you, or taping you on public streets.”

Source: The Sun Herald, January 6, 1999

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