Crystal J. Doucette
Ed De La Garza
Nikie Johnson Ellen Simonson
Big Brother is watching
Imagine you are walking through a busy
area of town, full of small shops and restaurants and bustling with other
Suddenly, the person next to you breaks
into a run, only to be apprehended by a group of police officers. The person
is arrested and led away, and
you learn from an officer that the person
is suspected of having robbed a bank two weeks ago.
But the police didn't track the suspect
down themselves. You learn that, as you and the hundreds of people around
you walked through the city
streets, dozens of security cameras were
scanning faces and comparing the images to mug shots of criminals.
A computer program had made the identification,
and a live officer of the law verified it before the arrest was made.
In this hypothetical situation, do you
feel reassured that the government is trying to make public streets safer,
or do you worry that this type of
government surveillance is tantamount
to invasion of privacy -- an Orwellian Big Brother type of situation?
This is the very real decision that residents
of Tampa, Fla., are having to grapple with. On June 29, the FaceIt system
was installed in Ybor City, a
popular downtown district of Tampa.
The system, which Tampa can use free for
one year, did not make any identifications in its first few days of use.
Supporters say the technology is no different
than having police officers standing on the streets holding mug shots,
except that it works much faster
and can see much more.
Some business owners say they and their
customers feel more secure, and the facts seem to back them up: Officials
in Newham, England, credit
FaceIt -- which has been in place there
since 1998 -- with a drop in crime.
But critics argue that the benefits do
not outweigh the ominous sense of being watched by the government. They
say the system is an invasion of
privacy and a violation of civil liberties.
The only warnings in the area are signs
saying "Smart CCTV is in use," referring to closed circuit television.
But not everyone being watched can see
the signs, and many people don't know
what the warning means. Critics argue these signs are not sufficient warning.
A public street is different from a bank,
a convenience store or any other private business where customers can be
expected to be on camera.
With all the advances in technology these
days, it is becoming harder and harder to ever be assured of privacy. Is
this taking the trend a step too far?
Tampa officials must carefully weigh the
benefits to public security with the public's guaranteed right to privacy
and consider what the implications
may be for a free society.