Friday, April 20, 2007

Big Brother is swinging on the light pole

Well, they are up, those SFPD surveillance cameras that many of my neighbors attended a hearing to oppose. I don't expect them to reduce crime. More likely, they'll just drive the drug deals around the corner onto my street. And pan the crowds when political groups assemble in this familiar intersection.

Today "All Things Considered" ran a short report on what police across the country are doing with the enormous volume of images they are collecting of all of us. Apparently the average U.S. resident is captured on video fifteen times a day! For the time being, the cops are having some trouble using it: there is simply too much for anyone to sort through.

But don't worry, police security experts will soon find a way to process the images. They are being combined into three regional video labs which amount to a national visual surveillance database. Police hope new software can sort the images so they will be able to search on variables like "female bank robbers" or "individuals wearing a blue baseball cap." Feel safer?

For one New York-based response to these things, check out the Surveillance Camera Players who do theatre for the cameras. Interestingly, they visited San Francisco awhile back and found us inadequately distressed: "San Francisco doesn't have a police department that is as brutal, feared or distrusted as the New York Police Department (NYPD)." Any San Francisco veteran of the White Night riots, the Castro Street sweep, or the Union Square demo where the SFPD clubbed grandmother Dolores Huerta so badly she lost her spleen might question that one.

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