Thursday, May 12, 2005

Cuts in Education, But More Spending On Surveillance Cameras

President Bush's proposed $2.57 trillion federal budget for Fiscal Year 2006 greatly increases the amount of money spent on surveillance technology and programs while cutting about 150 programs—most of them from the Department of Education. EPIC's "Spotlight on Surveillance" project scrutinizes these surveillance programs.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has requested more than $2 billion to finance grants to state and local governments for homeland security needs.1 Some of this money is being used by state and local governments to create networks of surveillance cameras to watch over the public in the streets, shopping centers, at airports and more.2 However, studies have found that such surveillance systems have little effect on crime, and that it is more effective to place more officers on the streets and improve lighting in high-crime areas.3 There are significant concerns about citizens’ privacy rights and misuse or abuse of the system. A professor at the University of Nevada at Reno has alleged that the university used a homeland security camera system to surreptitiously watch him after he filed a complaint alleging that the university abused its research animals.4 Also, British studies have found there is a significant danger of racial discrimination and stereotyping by those monitoring the cameras.5

Previous Federal Grants
Cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, and New Orleans have installed camera surveillance networks with financing from the federal government. Such cameras, which can $60,000 each, can be remotely controlled by police to pan, tilt, zoom and rotate; have day and night vision capabilities, and wireless technologies.6

Chicago has 2,250 cameras in its “Homeland Security Grid,” which DHS helped finance with a $5.1 million grant, and will be adding cameras in the next two years with funds from another $48 million grant from Homeland Security.7 By 2006, Chicago will have a 900-mile fiber-optic grid.8 The cameras are linked to a $43-million operations center constantly monitored by police officers.9

Baltimore has used federal grants to finance its camera system and $1.3 million “Watch Center.”10 The cameras are connected to the state’s existing highway monitoring cameras, and the plan is for five counties in Maryland – Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Hartford and Howard – to connect with the city’s surveillance system.11

In New Orleans digital camera images are sent to a main server archive for monitoring, and the Internet-based archive can be accessed from any location, including police vehicles.12 Cameras are currently operating in the city, but New Orleans’ extensive 1,000-camera surveillance system is expected to be fully deployed by the end of the year.13 Paramus, N.J., is launching a pilot camera surveillance system at shopping malls that will be partially financed by federal grants.14

Though cities are spending millions for these systems, studies have shown that they do not decrease criminal activity. Last year, a Milwaukee study found that law enforcement officials in cities such as Detroit, Mich.; Miami, Fla.; and Oakland, Calif., abandoned the use of these surveillance systems because they had little effect on crime prevention.15

Several American cities looked to Great Britain’s surveillance system when developing their own. London has 200,000 cameras, and more than 4 million cameras have been deployed throughout the country.16 It is estimated that there is one camera for every 14 people.17 The average Briton is seen by 300 cameras per day, according to estimates.18 However, several studies have shown that these systems have very little effect on crime. In 2002, the British Home Office examined 22 camera surveillance systems in North America and the United Kingdom, and found that such systems had a small effect on crime.19 It is more effective to place more officers on the streets and improve lighting in high-crime areas.20

Studies have also shown that there is a serious risk of race discrimination with the use of camera surveillance networks. Black males are disproportionately scrutinized when such cameras systems are used.21 The National Association for the Criminal Rehabilitation of Offenders found race discrimination in the systems and stated “[w]hen certain sections of the community are disproportionately monitored, this not only acts to portray an impression of criminality amongst these groups (certain acts are noticed whilst other groups may be carrying out the same acts unmonitored and unnoticed), it also conveys a message to these individuals that they are not trusted.”22

There are also concerns that the homeland security camera systems will be misused or abused. The University of Nevada at Reno installed a network of 80 surveillance cameras throughout campus grounds and in school buildings with a $598,000 grant from Homeland Security in 2003.23 Professor Hussein S. Hussein filed suit after finding that the university used a homeland security hidden camera to watch his lab after Mr. Hussein had previously found a hidden university police camera, installed inside a smoke detector, was being used to monitor his lab.24 The university admitted installing the hidden camera, but claimed it was investigating a “potential hate crime.”25

The University of Nevada at Reno is just one of many universities that are using camera surveillance systems, including the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Pennsylvania.26 At the University of Northern Iowa, students protested after Cedar Falls, Iowa, installed cameras to monitor crowds gathered for Homecoming.27

The list of places installing camera surveillance systems includes smaller towns. Cicero, Ill., (population: 83,000) plans to install several surveillance cameras, at a cost of $50,000 each, with a grant from Homeland Security.28 A federal grant of $150,000 will help Newport, R.I., (population: 86,000) to pay for the installation of surveillance cameras.29 St. Bernard Parish, La., (population: 66,000) spent $112,000 in federal funds for surveillance cameras.30

EPIC has been following the growth in the use of such camera systems for years. In 2002, EPIC launched the Observing Surveillance project.31 The project includes a map of camera locations in areas of downtown Washington, D.C., which indicates both the locations of surveillance cameras installed by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the projected surveillance radius of those cameras.

1 Department of Homeland Security, Budget-in-Brief Fiscal Year 2006, at 81-82 (Feb. 7, 2005) available at

2 Marc Rotenberg and Cedric Laurant, EPIC and Privacy International, Privacy and Human Rights: An International Survey of Privacy Laws and Developments at 102-103 (EPIC 2004) (hereinafter “PHR 2004”); available at

3 See generally PHR 2004 at 95-104; Brandon C. Welsh and David P. Farrington, Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, Crime prevention effects of closed circuit television: a systematic review, Research Study 252 (Aug. 2002) (hereinafter “Home Office Study”) available at; National Association for the Criminal Rehabilitation of Offenders, To CCTV or not to CCTV? A review of current research into the effectiveness of CCTV systems in reducing crime (June 28, 2002) (hereinafter “NACRO Study”) available at


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