Dominic Holden presents a look at what more security cameras would do, and wouldn’t do in our country. This entire debate reminds me of the decent (but not great) TV series: Person of Interest.
The show surrounds a smart computer geek, who created a program that analyzes all available data on the U.S. population (from cameras, wiretaps, phone logs, emails, etc.) to determine a likely terrorist threat, but a subset of the program (which the show revolves around) sends the creator a SSN of someone in NYC about to commit a serious crime, or have one committed against them. (Then they try to help and yadda, yadda, yadda.)
Needless to say there is a lot of a good and a lot of bad that come from security cameras in public areas, but I think the most telling statement of how hard it is to still catch someone is a passage Holden includes from the CTO of the CIA:
The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time. Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever.
24/7 monitoring of security cameras of any type is largely ineffective, inefficient, and cost prohibitive (except, apparently, in Las Vegas), so the deterrent factor isn’t “immediate arrest” as much as it is: tracking down people later. But as the passage above points out, it’s not always an immediate later. First you have to know that something happened somewhere that needs review, then you have to try an identify a nameless face off a grainy, poorly lit, and far away, camera.
I can tell you that in my day job we struggle with the decision, of whether or not to install security cameras, all the time. Do we install security cameras to curb graffiti, what about curbing, or catching, people breaking into cars? Nine times out of ten, the best decision (economically and practically) is to not install cameras at all.
My argument against cameras is not a privacy argument, but instead the same argument I would use against dead bolts on your front door.
Dead bolts and security cameras serve the same purpose: to keep the honest people honest. Anyone intent on crime will do so no matter what level of “security” you have in place. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a dead bolt — I do — but that you need to have reasonable expectations about the level of security offered. A strong boot is still coming through your door — dead bolt or not.
Also remember that in addition to catching people with security cameras, you have to worry about securing the security cameras. At one building I manage, with a large camera network, the first place broken into is always the security camera room.
There is always a place the cameras don’t cover, and always a place to attack — cameras just shift those places around.