Chicago Officials Defend Street-Level Camera Network as Money Saver, Crime Fighter

February 10, 2011  |  

(AP) — Chicago emergency management officials defended the city’s expansive network of cameras following a scathing report from a leading civil rights group that raised concerns about the loss of privacy, a lack of regulation and fears the technology could violate the First Amendment.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois called for a full review of the system — with at least 10,000 cameras mounted at locations from skyscrapers to utility poles — saying city officials won’t release basic information such as the exact number and cost of the cameras, nor any incidents of misuse.  Those concerns, along with city officials’ plans for expansion, put Chicago a step closer to a Big Brother invasion of privacy, the ACLU said.  “Chicago’s camera network invades the freedom to be anonymous in public places, a key aspect of the fundamental American right to be left alone,” according to the report released Tuesday. “Each of us then will wonder whether the government is watching and recording us when we walk into a psychiatrist’s office, a reproductive health care center, a political meeting, a theater performance, or a book store.”    The system, which started less than a decade ago, was called the most extensive and integrated camera network of any U.S. city by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.  Chicago police have praised the cameras’ use, and Mayor Richard Daley has even called for cameras to be installed on every city corner to help fight crime. Police and Daley have said the cameras help authorities respond more quickly and have led to more than 4,000 arrests.  City officials responded later Tuesday to the ACLU’s report, saying the cameras help police, are used in a public way and are monitored.

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