Camera Surveillance and GPS Tracking: Public Yet Private

Yesterday I did an RT interview about surveillance cameras in cities such as Chicago, which according to a February report (PDF) from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has the most pervasive system in America. Chicago police have access to 10,000 or so cameras, and Mayor Richard Daley wants to add more, putting one "on every corner." The ACLU report notes that sophisticated camera networks that can zoom in on people, recognize their faces, and follow them from place to place raise privacy issues similar to those raised by GPS tracking. Even though all the tracking occurs in public places, the information it collects can be very revealing:

While earlier camera systems tracked only how some people spend some of their time in the public way, a camera on every corner – coupled with pan-tilt-zoom, facial recognition, and automatic tracking – results in government power to track how all people spend all of their time in the public way.

Each of us then will wonder whether the government is watching and recording us when we walk into a psychiatrist's office, a reproductive health care center, a political meeting, a theater performance, or a book store. While the dystopia described by George Orwell in "1984" has not yet been realized, Chicago's current 10,000 surveillance cameras are a significant step in this direction. And a camera "on every corner" would be an even greater step.

The ACLU suggests such government surveillance can have a chilling effect on expressive activity such as public protests, especially given Chicago's history of monitoring and harassing left-wing political groups. It recommends various safeguards to prevent abuse of information collected by the cameras. As a step in that direction, it is supporting a bill introduced last month that would "require police agencies that own or have access to video surveillance cameras to disclose to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority the number of their cameras, and their privacy regulations, if they have any." The information would be available on the authority's website.

I discussed the inhibiting effect of surveillance cameras in a 2002 column. Last August I noted that federal appeals courts are divided on the question of whether the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant for GPS tracking of vehicles. The ACLU report quotes the 9th Circuit's Alex Kozinski and the D.C. Circuit's Douglas Ginsburg, who have argued (writing in dissent and in the majority, respectively) that it does, despite the conventional view that people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in public, because such tracking reveals sensitive information. "A person who knows all of another's travels," Ginsburg noted in a 2010 decision (PDF), "can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups—and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • James J.B.||

    "We're not in your home or business"

    Not yet. Give'em time. We'll all talk about the days when we had GMD (government monitoring devices) in only cars.

  • Poppin' Caps lock||

    If cops have no reasonable expectation of privacy, then neither do citizens. Simple as that.

  • ||

    One does not have privacy rights with respects to their job. When I go to work, I have no expectation of privacy about what I do.

    Cop is a profession, not a class of citizen.

  • rather||

    Yes you do. Do they record what you eat? When and how many times you use the bathroom? Do they take a specimen?

    Your 'proffession' may not have privacy but it is in context of the work, and not the person. It seems we are erasing the distinction

  • ||

    ""Do they record what you eat? When and how many times you use the bathroom? Do they take a specimen?""

    If I eat at my job, they could record it, they can put cameras anywere they want, save the bathrooms. They could count how many times you went to the bathroom by installing a card key lock that logs when you entered. My job currently has this on one of the bathrooms because of vandalism.

    Specimen? That's just stupid.

  • ||

    But don't get me wrong. A citizen has no more right to privacy in public places than cops. Neither has an expectation of privacy in public.

  • almightyjb||

    To quote all the stupid bitches who support nude scanners and govt gropers at the airports. As long as it makes me "feel" safer, it's all worth my loss of privacy, dignity, and self-respect.

  • almightyjb||

    Have Americans always been such pussies?

  • rather||

    It isn't that 'they' know where you are and what you do that bothers me most but the commercialization of their our information.

    The fact that government are always looking for creative new revenue sources is foreshadowing of their intent

  • Nameless||

    Don't worry rather, I don't think the government is interested in selling the CCTV footage of you and your johns as pornography. Even they know that shit won't sell.

  • rather retarded||

    What johns? I usually have to pay them

  • ||

    Stories like this give me chills. Because you know that the SCOTUS is gonna rule for the executive.

    Makes me glad I live in bumfuck rural Arizona. There aren't that many camera in the middle of the desert.

  • Homeland Security||

    There aren't that many camera in the middle of the desert.
    because their righs need to be protected

  • Homeland Security||

    addendum:

    No once crosses the desert. We have a secure fence.

  • T||

    Didn't the Brits figure out the "sophisticated camera network" software is rendered worthless by a hoodie and shades?

  • ||

    Imagine everyone suiting up to go out in public. Gray hoodie, gray sweatpants, shades. I guess they'll outlaw hoodies and shades ?

  • Sterile Society Advocate||

    That's one way to achieve conformity of dress.

  • ||

    The mayor and aldermen could show their good faith by each having a camera on their house 24/7, with a live feed to a website, cause , youknow, if you don't have anything to hide.......

  • Kroneborge||

    +1

  • ||

    Two words:

    SCORPION STARE.

  • T||

    Chicago could use some nice statues.

    Of course, they'd be of Chicago denizens so I question how nice they'd be, but still. Public art is a public pigeon rest, or something like that.

  • ||

    CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN

  • Zeb||

    Something that the "no expectation of privacy" people seem to miss is that cars can also go onto private property, where there is an expectation of privacy. Also, if they have to actually attach something to a person's vehicle, that is more than just high-tech tailing. That is tampering with a person's private property.

  • Mike||

    If you are not doing anything wrong what is the problem?

  • J. Edgar Hoover||

    Is this a spoof?

  • Rich||

    Each of us then will wonder whether KNOW the government is watching and recording us when we walk into a psychiatrist's office, a reproductive health care center, a political meeting, a theater performance, or a book store.

    FTFY

  • ||

    And I thought the TSA was our worth threat. This is incredibly disturbing, especially given that I live in Chicago.

    http://www.intellectualtakeout.....ing-people’s-trade-offs-across-libert

  • cynical||

    Awesome, now they can finally catch all the bad cops and corrupt politicians.

  • Sparky||

    Don't be silly, they've already caught them and given them cushy jobs.

  • ||

    While the dystopia described by George Orwell in "1984" has not yet been realized, Chicago's current 10,000 surveillance cameras are a significant step in this direction. And a camera "on every corner" would be an even greater step.

    Oh, puh-leeeeeze.

    Each of us then will wonder whether the government is watching and recording us when we walk into a psychiatrist's office, a reproductive health care center, a political meeting, a theater performance, or a book store.

    This could be accomplished by a cop standing on a corner, too.

    "A person who knows all of another's travels," Ginsburg noted in a 2010 decision (PDF), "can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups—and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts."

    Which was the case in most parts of America America until the 1950s, no cameras required.

    But GPS tracking probably constitutes a seizure since it must be attached to the target's property.

  • Paul||

    This could be accomplished by a cop standing on a corner, too.

    Then why doesn't chicago replace its 10,000 cameras with 10,000 cops standing on corners?

    I'll bet you the answer has something to do with the functional logistical impossibility of placing 10,000 cops on corners-- cops with photographic memories.

    Meaning it can't be accomplished by putting a cop on a corner.

  • ||

    Why doesn't the FBI replace its national computerized fingerprint database with couriers on horseback?

    Whether or not something can be accomplished with technology has nothing to do with its legality.

  • ||

    I agree that it is no more "chilling" to have a camera on a public corner than a cop standing there, or any less legal.

    But there is an important difference between a small town in early 20th century America (or anywhere for that matter) and the State having that knowledge. In the first case, everyone knew everyone else's business, in the second, it is only the State that knows. Now if all these public cameras were publicly accessible, so that not only "criminals" but cops could be held equally accountable, that would be something.

  • ||

    ""But GPS tracking probably constitutes a seizure since it must be attached to the target's property.""

    No it doesn't. All they need is access to the GPS data cell phones send.

  • Russ 2000||

    Chicago will turn into Detroit. There eventually will be a camera on every corner.... watching the grass grow.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement