Sunday, May 06, 2007

Smile, You're on Camera...

One of the 13 surveillance cameras installed by the Toronto Police for its Pilot Project to Monitor the city streets for crimes.
Look Up, High up by the Lamp Posts and Traffic Signal Poles, Big Brother is watching over you.
No, you’re not back in George Orwell "1984", but Toronto in 2007 and until challenge and declared unconstitutional the Pilot Project of Toronto Police’s surveillance cameras will be reality and if able to hurdle any challenge or absence of it, will soon be expanded and may become part of our daily existence. Brush up that smile and no middle-finger salute, you’re friendly monitors may post your misdemeanors in YouTube.

Currently there are only 13 (why always the number l3?) Cameras installed in four neighborhoods: the entertainment district (downtown), Jane and Finch area ( a section of the city famous for it’s drug and gang related crimes) and two East Toronto communities, where crime rates are high and witnesses to the crime are keeping the code of silence or are not co-operative with the authorities.

And again here are what the "smart" residents of Toronto (including me) have to say about this new episode:

From teenager Brittany Campbell, H.S. Student while browsing downtown:
"Being filmed isn't anything new." That’s it? That was all.

Perhaps the most surprising about the Cameras was not that they were installed, not in coincidence that in the same week Five Surveillance Cameras in a Private business Captured a scene of the Murder and lead the cops to the suspect. No, the most surprising about the Installation of the Police Surveillance Cameras is the Lack of the Public Outcry.

If we can remember well, it was not very long ago that Canada’s Privacy Commissioner concerned about the Trend, sued the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) to prevent them from operating surveillance cameras in the park in Kelowna, British Columbia. Now, this week even the Canadian Civil Liberties Association had nothing, not a word to say about this issue. Or is it preparing a case to challenge the Installation and Operation of Surveillance Cameras in the Court?

Now back to the "smart alecks".

From Mike Pugash, Toronto Police Services spokesman:
"We've had cases where within an hour of putting out the picture, the suspect calls his lawyer and says: `I'm giving myself up’.

According to Mike, in the past month, three suspects were arrested after their recorded images were released to the Media. (Note: those images may have been recorded by private securities cameras or traffic cameras which have been installed to monitor traffic in city streets and highways.)

You’re on Camera in the Highways, (401, DVP, Gardener, 407) at city hall, ATM machines, the subway platforms, in stores, on sidewalks and in red lights. It has become impossible to venture outdoor without becoming a Star of a two seconds or if interesting a little longer, television production like; a nosepicker, a man scratching his itching balls, girl digging her purse, or a couple having their marital problems known to the city.

If you are stopped in Toronto by an OPP officer (Ontario Provincial Police), the entire exchange – including everything you say – is recorded by a camera in the cruiser. Officers wear microphones secured to their uniforms. They will tell you that you are being recorded, but you do not have the option of not being recorded.

"A lot of potentially argumentative people are less so once they find out it's being taped," says OPP Sgt. Cam Woolley of the highway safety division. "It's also become very useful in court – a lot of people will basically lie to save insurance money."
( first conviction may be forgiven, second insurance premiums will about double; e.g. paying $2000 normally a year, think about that. the third it's about the cost of an economy car. the next one, take the public transport, or get a bicycle, good exercise.)

And now for the people who monitor these cameras. The cameras could be monitored by the controllers at the control room and can be manipulated to take pictures for other than what they are for. It is known to happen.

In Tuscaloosa, Ala., state police have been accused of focusing their cameras on the breasts and buttocks of young women walking down the street. In Britain, police in a control room in the Midlands were recently caught taking close-ups of women with large breasts.

It could wind up on YouTube, where security camera footage has its own niche.

Toronto Police Service cameras have been set up to discourage abuse. The cameras are not monitored. There is no central control room. If a crime is committed in the vicinity of a camera, the recording is retrieved. Otherwise, it is erased within 72 hours. No record is kept. There is no audio.

The measures followed consultations with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, which has issued detailed guidelines for public surveillance cameras. The guidelines recommend collecting the least amount of information possible; they say that cameras should only be installed when other methods have demonstrably failed; that cameras should not be directed to look through the windows of adjacent buildings; and that if cameras are adjustable by operators, their movement should be restricted.

Asst. Privacy Commissioner Ken Anderson has this to say about the preventive measures to avoid potential abuse or misuse of surveillance cameras:

"The things that have been identified as problems ... in England ... can you poke and peek at things you shouldn't be doing, all that stuff, the police here have gone to some lengths to address that." And added that the office has not received a single complaint from the Public.

Where are the protesters denouncing the march toward a future like the one George Orwell described in 1984, where citizens are tracked everywhere they go, even in their own homes, their very thoughts monitored for compliance with the ruling party?

Do we trust our Police, our Authorities that the protests of yesteryears have suddenly disappear?

Are we tolerant to the Limitations to our rights ( our charter allows reasonable limits that can be demonstrably justified in a democratic society) without mounting a challenge?
Where are the Civil Rights movements?

Were they feed up of the crimes and the helplessness of the Authorities in dealing with these social problems in few of our city areas which are mainly caused by drugs, gangs, and illegal weapons and let’s face it, to the point of going down of being labeled as Politically Incorrect, the Tolerance of our Society for the Cultures that Breed crimes? (No details necessary).

Daniel Quinn of the Toronto Public Space Committee of the Cameras has this to say:

"We're definitely opposed, the major reason being that they're ineffective and expensive. It's an inordinate amount of power that you're granting to the police that can and has been proven in the past to be potentially abuse."
He himself was surprised at the acceptance of the cameras. The legal challenge mounted by former federal privacy commissioner George Radwanski was dismissed on procedural grounds, and the office is no longer pursuing it. But during that process, former Supreme Court Justice Gerard La Forest issued a legal opinion that general video surveillance for law enforcement purposes – recorded or not – likely infringes upon one's reasonable expectation of privacy Charter challenge on that basis could render public video surveillance illegal in Canada, according to a paper by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC). That is, if anyone can be found to challenge it.

It seems at the moment everyone one is having a wait and see attitudes toward this issue. But my bet is eventually a challenge will surface, strong probability from someone accused of crimes as a result of the images taken by the surveillance cameras. And in the end it will be up to the wisdom of our courts if we have to be in perpetual air waves as soon as we step out of our doors.