Politics

Something to Hide

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 16, 2008

Hamilton is installing more closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras downtown in addition to the five cameras already in operation in the King and James area. Ten to twelve more cameras will now bestow their gaze on James Street North, Ottawa Street, Concession Street and Hess Village.

The police department claimed that the cameras will help to fight crime, and the Police Services Board agreed, though one board member, Mark Nimigan, wondered how much more the program will expand before "Big Brother is watching all over the city" - though he didn't wonder enough to vote against it.

Against privacy concerns, the advocates and apologists for these CCTV cameras are already trotting out the old nugget, If you don't have anything to hide, you don't have anything to worry about.

The thing is, that saying gets it exactly backwards. As security expert Bruce Schneier points out, "If I'm not doing anything wrong, then you have no cause to watch me."

Everyone has something to hide, and most people, most of the time, have legitimate reasons to want to hide aspects of their lives. Do you write all your correspondence on postcards? Do you walk around naked? Of course not.

I have a public life and a private life. Even when I go out in public, I take my private life with me. When I walk in public, where I go, who I meet, and so on are simply none of the government's business, but CCTV makes that information available to the government if they decide they want it.

I don't care how quickly the government claims to destroy the tapes. I don't care even if they're telling the truth. I don't care if they're so understaffed or incompetent that they never actually look at the tapes. They have no cause and no right to collect this information about citizens in the first place.

Even if CCTV deterred crime - a claim for which there is absolutely no evidence - I still wouldn't agree to trade a little privacy for a little security.

If the streets are dangerous, identify the source of the danger and address it. That's how the government should work. Installing security cameras is nothing more than an admission that the people in charge don't have any ideas.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By libertyordeath (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2008 at 14:15:59

Damn straight, this is just an old fashioned power grab justified by 'we're just trying to keep you safe'. Who's going to keep us safe from the people videotaping our movements as if we're living in a prison?

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By Bee (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2008 at 20:13:56

I disagree. We all have a reasonable expectation of privacy, but step out into the public and you have to be prepared to give some of that up. Does it matter to you that on nay given day on any busy street thousands of eyes may be aimed in your direction? Would it make a difference if the police were adequately staffed and posted on each street corner? I don't understand what makes cameras that much different than the naked eye. I walk through downtown every day and pass by countless security cameras, both public and private, and never once have felt any discomfort in front of them.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted September 18, 2008 at 04:40:24

privacy issues aside, are cameras a better deterrent to crime than real live cops? of course not. it's time to get cops back on the street doing good old-fashioned police work. cops used to have good connections with the communities they served. not so sure that's the case anymore. forget the cameras, let's put boot to pavement.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 18, 2008 at 08:01:05

Bee,

It's not just the fact of being seen, which I agree is a reasonable outcome of going out in public. CCTV cameras don't just see you; they also record you and enable the government to track your patterns of movement, which says a lot more about your private affairs that the mere fact that you happen to be walking down James St one afternoon. That is what makes this an infringement on your privacy.

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By Bee (anonymous) | Posted September 19, 2008 at 00:42:57

I seriously think the "government" has better things to do than follow random citizens as they walk down the street.

Cameras are not much of a crime deterrent, but they certainly can provide valuable evidence when such an incident does take place.

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By Lurkalicious (anonymous) | Posted September 22, 2008 at 08:08:52

If we could trust the government to do what it's suppose to do we wouldn't need democracy would we?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted September 23, 2008 at 12:22:55

Have these cameras shown any noticable drop in crime rates downtown? There aren't many, so it should show up on a detailed analysis of crime patterns in the area (and don't tell me that there isn't enough crime at John and King to chart that).

I doubt it.

And what have they cost? I highly doubt that convenience stores and apartment buildings are paying anything like the tens or hundreds of thousands this project has cost us for their cameras.

This is one more step in a very serious trend of eroding privacy and expanding surveillance. It's everywhere. The increasing technological nature of our society is expanding it all the time - kinds of surveillance that would never have been tolerated with telephones are routine on the internet. Every email, RTH posting and instant message you send is being scanned. What's most terrifying, though, is that the apparatus for collecting, sorting and analyzing that information is becoming more complex every day.

I've seen it all before. In the days of the big anti-globalization protests nothing was innocent. It seemed like every march, no matter how small or nonviolent was stocked with bussloads of riot cops, undercover cops with cameras in unmarked cars and agent provacateurs looking for people to spy or entrap (and the Hamilton Police Force has been caught doing this). I've been followed at walking speed by unmarked cars, who stopped 20 feet back when one of us went into a store to use a bathroom, I've had undercover cops try to talk me into acts which would have bordered on terrorism, and I've seen private security companies paid by the city collect detailed dossiers on activists going about their normal lives, to the point of illegal photo lineups which netted one guy I know more than a month in jail on bogus charges. Funny, though, how virtually none of it ever shows up to prove somebody's innocence. Everyone from Bob Rae to Rita McNiel has been covertly watched by the Canadian state...

Never assume that because you aren't doing anything wrong/illegal that you can't end up on the wrong end of a cop, a courtroom, or incarceration. It happens every day.

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