Chicago Residents Concerned Over Surveillance Cameras

High-tech surveillance cameras in use around Chicago used by the city’s police to zoom in on crimes in progress and track suspects across the city are the subject of growing privacy concerns from citizens and privacy rights activists.

Chicago has been on a path since 2003 to become the country’s most-watched city, when police first started installing security cameras in high-crime areas around the city. Since the onset of the program, Chicago has linked up more than 10,000 public and privately owned surveillance cams in a system dubbed Operation Virtual Shield, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The report, published Tuesday, states that at least 1,250 of those cams are powerful enough to zoom in and read the text of a book, and is also capable of automatically tracking people and vehicles out of range of one camera and into another.

“Given Chicago’s history of unlawful political surveillance, including the notorious ‘Red Squad,’ it is critical that appropriate controls be put in place to rein in these powerful and pervasive surveillance cameras now available to law enforcement throughout the City,” Harvey Grossman, legal director of the ACLU of Illinois, told AFP.

The “Red Squad” program, run by the Chicago police from the 20s to the 70s, was used to spy on and maintain profiles of thousands of individuals and groups in an effort to find communists and other insubordinates.

Richard Daley, the outgoing mayor of Chicago, has long supported the surveillance cameras as crime-fighting tools and said he would like to see them on every street corner.

The Chicago police said the cameras have led to 4,500 arrests in the past four years.

But the ACLU said the price tag that comes with the high-tech surveillance system could be better spent on the 1,000+ vacancies in the Chicago police force.

It urged city officials to impose a ban on new cameras and implement new policies to prevent the misuse of the cameras, such as prohibiting filming of private residencies and limiting the propagation of recorded images.

“Our city needs to change course, before we awake to find that we cannot walk into a book store or a doctor’s office free from the government’s watchful eye,” said the ACLU.

A spokeswoman with the Chicago police department said the force regularly reviews it policies and keeps an “open dialogue” with the ACLU.

“The Chicago Police Department is committed to safeguarding the civil liberties of city residents and visitors alike,” Lieutenant Maureen Biggane told the French news agency in an e-mail. “Public safety is a responsibility of paramount importance and we are fully committed to protecting the public from crime, and upholding the constitutional rights of all.”

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