Angles: Real-time surveillance: 1984 or no?


Protect Privacy Expectations

It is a bright, cold day in April, and things are feeling a little Orwellian in Compton, Calif.  Police officers in the area have been testing a new surveillance system and, according to a recent report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, keeping the whole ordeal pretty “hush-hush.”

The company responsible is Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS), founded by Air Force veteran Ross McNutt.

PSS is essentially a version of Google Earth that watches cities in real time, with additional capabilities to rewind and review footage. Gizmodo called it the “TiVo” of surveillance technologies.

For police officers in Compton, PSS provides a way to monitor crime, and in the process, record all of the activity going on within a 25-square-mile area. Big Brother is watching you.

With product names like “Hawkeye,” “Nighthawk” and “Hawkeye II,” it’s clear that PSS doesn’t mess around. The company’s diligent watch is meant to keep us secure by knowing that the bad guys are being spotted.

But the trouble isn’t just that citizens are being watched. In fact, it’s possible that these new PSS technologies won’t be much different than surveillance cameras in shopping malls or other public places.

What should be unsettling, though, is that the Compton police department chose to keep their experiment with PSS secret from the general public. Even in 1984, the citizens at least knew they were being watched.

People who know they’re being watched behave better, right? Little kids never disobey their parents when they know Santa Claus is watching, do they?

What should also be unsettling is that there are people who truly believe that less privacy leads to less crime.

Installing a few extra cameras around town won’t address the root causes of criminal activity any more than showing a starving kid a picture of an apple addresses the root causes of hunger.

Even if PSS is successful in helping police officers find the “bad guys” with ease, the idea of widespread surveillance should be bothersome, particularly when it is kept quiet by the people in control of it.

A fine line exists between safety and spying, and citizens need to pay attention to new technologies like this to make sure they’re used ethically and without intruding on our right to a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Megan Raposa is a junior journalism and business communications major from Rapid City, S.D.


Safety should be a priority

The fact that police are testing a surveillance system that would give them access to watch crime happen in real time is nothing like 1984’s “Big Brother is always watching.”

Created by a retired Air Force veteran, the wide-area (a 25-squaremile patch to be more specific) surveillance system is basically a glorified Google Earth. The creator describes it as a “live version of Google Earth, with TiVo capacities.”

Police would have the ability to record an area with high-resolution cameras that they could use to watch people and cars as they go around town. They would be able to rewind and zoom in.

The system can work with other on-the-ground video sources, and it could identify suspects as they leave the scene of a crime.

However, the system was not created so people could see grandma Suzie as she goes to the grocery store on Sunday afternoons.

The system cannot see into homes, and it cannot identify faces. Even when it is completely zoomed in, no faces can be recognized. So what’s the point?

When the system was tested in Compton, Calif. last year, police were able to watch a jewelry theft as it happened and identify the getaway car in which the suspect left.

The car drove out of the frame, so they weren’t able to catch the suspect, but they were able to identify the car so they could keep looking.

A system like this would be highly beneficial in cities with high crime rates. If police had the ability to watch crime as it happened, they would more than likely be able to respond at a faster rate.

Though they wouldn’t be able to identify the people, police would still have the ability to see which direction the suspects went or the vehicle they got into.

One of the officers from a city involved in the testing of the system said that it allows police “to provide more security with less loss of privacy than any of the other options that are out there.”

Because it can’t identify faces, it seems no different than surveillance systems that are in gas stations, malls, and restaurants.

There would be no fourth amendment rights violated with the use of this system. It’s basically like a live version of Cops. What could be better than that?

Carly Uthe is a senior journalism and communications major from Sioux Falls, S.D.