Big Brother is watching you!
What would people do if terrorists bombed ten major cities in one day? What if the threat of nuclear bombs carried in suitcases capable of killing millions of people became a technological possibility?
We would put cameras everywhere. GPS bracelets, for those who wanted to avoid the hassle of being a suspect, would not be a long step from there. If the people volunteer to cooperate together to eliminate terrorism, then we are not really compromising our civil liberties. Only if it became mandatory for U.S. citizens would I say that constitutional rights are being violated.
In one major U.S. city, an effort to put video surveillance into practice is already taking place. The city of Chicago is the largest city vulnerable to foreign attack coming from Canada. While it is unlikely that weapons of mass destruction could be carried through airport security, the Canadian border could more easily be used.
This was the theme of the 1994 movie, The Jackal, in which a would-be presidential assassin hired a Canadian weapons expert to manufacture a computer-controlled automatic gun. The weapon was smuggled into the United States via the Great Lakes into Chicago and brought to Washington D.C. via van. It’s not unlikely that terrorists are currently trying to get a WMD into America from Canada or Mexico in an attempt to commit an act of terror.
But this can be prevented before the technology develops to the place where manufacturing nuclear weapons becomes easier for terrorists.
“Smart” surveillance cameras are already in use in Chicago
A New York Times article described Chicago’s attempt to fend off such an attack and to take bite out of crime in the process. According to the article:
A highly advanced system of video surveillance is being installed throughout the city. Mayor Richard M. Daley says, “Cameras are the equivalent of hundreds of sets of eyes. They’re the next best things to having police officers stationed at every potential trouble spot.”
Police specialists already monitor live footage from about 2,000 surveillance cameras around the city, so the addition of 250 cameras under the mayor’s new plan is not a great jump. The way these cameras will be used, however, is an extraordinary technological leap.
Sophisticated new computer programs will immediately alert the police whenever anyone viewed by any of the cameras placed at buildings and other structures considered terrorist targets wanders aimlessly in circles, lingers outside a public building, pulls a car onto the shoulder of a highway, or leaves a package and walks away from it. Images of those people will be highlighted in color at the city’s central monitoring station, allowing dispatchers to send police officers to the scene immediately.
Officials here designed the system after studying the video surveillance network in London, which became a world leader in this technology during the period when Irish terrorists were active. The Chicago officials also studied systems used in Las Vegas casinos, as well as those used by Army combat units. The system they have devised, they say, will be the most sophisticated in the United States and perhaps the world.
Many cities have installed large numbers of surveillance cameras along streets and near important buildings, but as the number of these cameras has grown, it has become impossible to monitor all of them. The software that will be central to Chicago’s surveillance system is designed to direct specialists to screens that show anything unusual happening.
When the system is in place video images will be instantly available to dispatchers at the city’s 911 emergency center, which receives about 18,000 calls each day. Dispatchers will be able to tilt or zoom the cameras, some of which magnify images up to 400 times, in order to watch suspicious people and follow them from one camera’s range to another’s.
The surveillance network will embrace cameras placed not only by the police department, but also by a variety of city agencies including the transit, housing and aviation authorities. Private companies that maintain their own surveillance of areas around their buildings will also be able to send their video feeds to the central control room that is being built at a fortified city building.
The 250 new cameras, along with the new system dispatchers will use to monitor them, are to be in place by the spring of 2006. A $5.1 million federal grant will be used to pay for the cameras, and the city will add $3.5 million to pay for the computer network that will connect them.
“The value we gain in public safety far outweighs any perception by the community that this is Big Brother who’s watching,” Mr. Huberman said. “The feedback we’re getting is that people welcome this. It makes them feel safer.”
City officials counter that the cameras will monitor only public spaces. Rather than curb the system’s future expansion, they have raised the possibility of placing cameras in commuter and rapid transit cars and on the city’s street-sweeping vehicles.