There are an estimated 30 million surveillance cameras in the U.S., and there are calls for even more to be installed after surveillance footage from a Lord & Taylor department store helped investigators identify the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
Thanks to surveillance cameras, the FBI was able to release a most-wanted poster of suspects Dzokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26.
Lawmakers, including New York’s Republican Congressman Peter King want more cameras. In Baltimore, the city is spending $1.5 million a year for its arsenal of 600 surveillance cameras, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It needs retired police officers to monitor them.
New York City is also prepping for more cameras. Its surveillance system has 6,000 cameras and growing, according to NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Almost half of New York’s cameras are in the Financial District and Wall Street.
“I’m a major proponent of cameras,” Kelly said on Morning Joe. “The more cameras the better. And I think the privacy issue has been taken off the table.”
The number of cameras in New York pales in comparison to the 400,000 units installed in London, dubbed “the ring of steel.” That amounts to one camera for every 32 Brits.
But critics point out that relying cameras comes at a cost to freedom. In a 2007 report, “Under the Watchful Eye”, the ACLU wrote, “Given surveillance cameras’ limited usefulness and the potential threat they pose to civil liberties, the ACLU recommends that local government stop deploying them.”
Innovations like aerial drone technology raise the debate to new heights. Dragan Fly’s pilotless, remote controlled mini-planes, and robotic, two-foot wide helicopters can surveil without detection. Arecont Visions’ night vision cameras track individuals with daylight clarity. And panoramic video cameras with eyeballs like a fly’s can scan 180 degrees, without even turning.
Security experts say the next incident could be stopped by artificial intelligence programs that automatically spot suspicious bags and facial expressions, in effect, becoming cameras that think.