NYCLU Urges Syracuse Lawmakers to Address Privacy Concerns, Seek Public Input on Surveillance Plan

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
September 21, 2010 12:00 am

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SYRACUSE – At a public hearing in Syracuse this evening, the Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union will urge the city’s Common Council to initiate a formal public review process before moving to install a 24-hour video surveillance system in the Near West Side neighborhood.

“The city should not spend $125,000 in taxpayer money to install police surveillance cameras throughout a neighborhood without initiating robust public discussion and enacting clear privacy protections,” said Barrie Gewanter, director of the Central New York Chapter. “City lawmakers must establish a formal public review process and develop regulations to safeguard residents’ privacy and prevent misuse of this technology.”

The proposal, which will be the subject of a Common Council hearing at City Hall at 5:30 p.m. today, calls for the initial installation of nine surveillance cameras on utility poles in the Near West Side. Gewanter will address the council on the proposal at tonight’s meeting. She will urge the council to:

  • subject the proposal to vigorous public debate including public hearings in the effected neighborhood before moving to install surveillance cameras;
  • provide the public detailed information on how the cameras will be operated, what they will record, how surveillance data will be stored and who will have access to it;
  • adopt clear rules and procedures for retention, storage and destruction of surveillance recordings, and to limit access to and dissemination of such recordings;
  • conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine if this surveillance camera program would be likely to deter or prevent violent crime, or if this $125,000 in federal funds should be utilized for other law enforcement approaches more likely to meet this goal.

The effectiveness of surveillance in preventing crime is debatable. A 2008 report by the University of California Berkeley on San Francisco’s video surveillance system concluded that the system’s 68 cameras had no effect on burglaries, car theft or violent crime. Instead, the recordings from these cameras were more useful in investigating crimes after the fact. There is little or no evidence from other studies in the U.S. and the U.K. that surveillance cameras deter or prevent crime.

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