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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Rise of the Robocops

    Downtown camera rejection bucks a troubling trend

    You probably don’t know it, but you are being watched. The average American is photographed at least 10 times a day by closed-circuit cameras in grocery stores, at ATMs and on the road. And although most of the cameras that watch our lives are privately owned, more and more digital eyes are being employed by governments to fight crime.

    Last week, the Tucson City Council quietly turned down a $100,000 grant offered to the city to install surveillance cameras across downtown Tucson. The offer, sponsored by Target and cheerfully christened “”Rio Nuevo Safe City Centro,”” would have paid to install 14 closed-circuit cameras scattered throughout Downtown and Fourth Avenue. Designed to deter crime and prevent panhandling, the network of cameras would have been monitored from a central control room at the Tucson Police Department station.

    Downtown businesses strongly supported the proposal and have loudly opposed the city’s surveillance snub. They want security cameras and a strong police presence to deter “”aggressive panhandlers”” that they say are bad for business. Any student who’s spent time on Fourth Avenue is familiar with the colorful nomads who call the streets of Downtown their home. But building a surveillance society isn’t a good way to rid the city of bothersome vagrants – fighting poverty and homelessness is. Even more troubling, companies like Target shouldn’t be bankrolling the encroachment of Big Brother on our daily lives.

    Security cameras are a seductive technology. After all, advocates say, good citizens shouldn’t be afraid to be recorded if they aren’t doing anything wrong. On our own campus, safety advocates often call for increased surveillance. The cameras installed to reassure dorm residents last year are an example of such concerns. But the benefits of pervasive surveillance are minor – and the potential for abusing camera equipment, along with the chilling effect of constant surveillance on public life, is great. Worst of all, security cameras do little to prevent crime.

    We need only look across the pond for evidence of their inefficacy. The U.K. is ahead of the curve in adopting public surveillance technology. Police forces and governments there have embraced surveillance as a crime-fighting technique. Today, there are an estimated 4.2 million cameras in the country, capturing the average Briton on tape hundreds of times a day. In a disturbing case of cosmic irony, there are now 28 surveillance cameras within 200 yards of “”1984″” author George Orwell’s former home in London.

    Some municipalities are experimenting with more advanced systems. One city is installing cameras with built-in speakers to bark orders at litterers and loiterers. Another has bought its police department flying robotic drones outfitted with cameras that can be remotely operated by police officers. Britain is quickly slipping into a bizarre future of technological surveillance. Despite all the cameras, evidence has suggested “”no link between a high number of CCTV cameras and a better crime clear-up rate,”” according to Dee Doocey, a spokeswoman for Britain’s Liberal Democrats party.

    Target, which offered to pay for the Tucson cameras, has financed similar systems in downtown Minneapolis and suburban Seattle. The money Tucson turned down has been offered to Fort Worth, Texas. Only time will tell if these surveillance systems are effective, but it’s troubling to see companies like Target subsidizing spying in cities across the nation.

    The City Council made a wise decision by passing on pervasive surveillance downtown. But we should all be aware of the rapidly growing surveillance society around us. Next time you’re partying on Fourth Avenue, thank the City Council for keeping the prying eyes of the police out of your personal affairs.

    OPINIONS BOARD: Editorials are determined by the Wildcat Opinions Board and written by one of its members. They are Justyn Dillingham, Allison Hornick, Sarah Keeler, Connor Mendenhall, Jeremiah Simmons and Allison Dumka.

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