St. Paul cops’ new toy (cameras) for surveillance raises ongoing issues

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With fanfare the St Paul Police announced their new toy to be used for law enforcement purposes. Its a mobile real time camera or cameras that can placed almost anywhere to observe the public in its coming and goings.

Granted, St Paul Police have used stationary cameras over the last decade to monitor and do surveillance on its citizens, but questions about this new tool and their current surveillance program need questions answered. Some of them are as follows: How effective is their surveillance program? What has been the impact on the public’s privacy and liberty? Do they keep snippets of video on people without a criminal investigation? Do they have a audit process to see who views the scenes captured and to make sure they are destroyed if there is no criminal investigation?

I have addressed the issue of surveillance and cameras before in a previous post entitled: Cops and cameras—-Modern peeping toms?

As with the license plate readers, St Paul Police had a big roll out to promote that new technology, but rebuffed privacy and liberty concerns by saying something like this, “Hey we are just taking pictures of plates in the public, and furthermore there is no privacy in public, anyway.” Well, based on the debate in the Minnesota House of Representatives on license plate readers (HF 474) I would beg to differ.

The “new portable high-tech surveillance camera” that St Paul is on the hunt for is much different than the cameras used in the RNC 2008 surveillance activities. Technology moves fast and improves on tools that we use in our everyday life or used by law enforcement.

With the possibility of St Paul and other cities/towns getting new and improved cameras there should be public discussion. Does the law enforcement agency have policies/protocols? Is the camera equipped with the ability to do facial recognition with high probability with a match from Minnesota Drivers License photo database or MRAP data base? Is the new real time camera or cameras equipped with sophisticated microphones to listen to people’s conversations as they go down the street?

See I believe, you and me have a right to privacy in public places in many circumstances and situations.

As Robert Ellis Smith, one of the leading privacy advocates for nearly 4 decades and the publisher of Privacy Journal states:

“Simply because the cameras are in public places does not mean that the right to privacy does not protect many of the activities captured in the millions of images. To concede these points is to default on our birthrights of privacy, autonomy, and anonymity, even in “public” places.”