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CCaribana

banksywhatareyoulookingat.jpg
When the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Ontario published its guidelines for the use of video surveillance cameras in public places back in October 2001 [.PDF], it summarized that institutions considering their use “must balance the benefits of video surveillance to the public against an individual’s right to be free of unwarranted intrusion into his or her life. Pervasive, routine and random surveillance of ordinary, lawful public activities interferes with an individual’s privacy.”
As far as they extend to the CCTV cameras installed by Toronto Police, the weight of those “benefits” is certainly up for debate. Unsurprisingly, the Toronto Public Space Committee has been one of the more vocal organizations advocating for the cameras’ removal, going so far as to stage a mock murder in front of one this weekend. As either a deterrent or an aide in punishment, the TPSC argues that the cameras are “almost completely ineffective,” and it’s certainly tempting to agree. At best, the cameras don’t seem to be really doing anything much other than serving as an extra pair of eyes on the street; at worst, they’re useless ugly boxes that serve to do little more than violate privacy and waste money.
CCTVgerrard.jpgIn addition to the cameras being installed at specific locations on a more permanent basis (like the entertainment district, Jane and Finch, and so on), the boxes have also started discretely popping up to keep watch over specific high-attendance events. Police CCTV cameras recorded last year’s Taste of the Danforth, International AIDS Conference, and Molson Indy––and, earlier this month, without notice or explanation, they appeared along Yonge Street. When Daniel Quinn of the TPSC contacted a police spokesperson, he was told that the cameras were up as a “temporary measure for Caribana,” and that they were supposed to come down after the festival. Arguments about the safety of the cherry-picked events aside, it’s not even the cameras’ temporary appearance along Yonge that is the biggest problem; it’s that, as of yet, they haven’t disappeared. Some two and a half weeks after Caribana’s final parade, the cameras are still there, dotting Yonge Street at College, Gerrard (pictured), Gould, and Dundas.
While Torontoist was unable to get in touch with the Toronto Police Services Board for comment, the organization’s own documentation on the cameras [.PDF] claims that the police will only use CCTV under certain conditions, one of them being that “appropriate governance is in place for effective management.” Four cameras covering an event that happened three weeks ago is not exactly the epitome of effective management. More than that, though, a half-dozen cameras trained on downtown Yonge Street for absolutely no purpose sounds an awful lot like what the Privacy Commissioner advised against: “pervasive, routine and random surveillance of ordinary, lawful public activities.”
Top photo, of a Banksy stencil at Marble Arch in London by one of that city’s security cameras, by nolifebeforecoffee. Bottom photo by Daniel Quinn.

Comments

  • uskyscraper

    I have absolutely zero problem with this. Toronto should have 400 cameras on Yonge, not 4. Seriously, any group that is protesting the appearance of cameras is wasting time better spent on more important matters. Surveillance by responsible public authorities of public spaces is completely reasonable and necessary in today’s Toronto where public space has been appropriated at times by thugs and illegal activity. London sets a good standard for camera use. Follow it.

  • Mathew Kumar

    I have zero problem with CCTV either, actually.

  • David Topping

    I’m not entirely against CCTV, either––I’m ambivalent about it, and I see the merits in both sides of the argument. I just think that it’s inappropriate that these specific cameras have been left behind weeks after the event they were installed specifically and exclusively to cover ended. If the police want to consult with the public about having cameras along Yonge, that’s one thing, but this is an instance of the Toronto Police slacking off and not doing a good job of managing the system (which is a bad precedent to set if they’re trying to win the public over).

  • guest

    That’s a great idea actually, lets look at the UK example. Here we have a nation spending literally billions of dollars to erect and maintain CCTV cameras and according to their own research, the cameras have had little or no effect on crime. Instead, what we see is crime being displaced: sometimes over a few metres, sometimes into private stairwells and a mountain of money going into watching crime happen instead of preventing it in the first place.
    I’d also like to point out that these cameras are not live-monitored. No one is watching the street personally so that if you do run into trouble, no one is coming to help you (as we’ve seen in the two previous shootings directly under the cameras). Instead, the cameras are just recording, and the footage is only reviewed after a crime has already been committed. How does that make anyone safer?
    You’re also assuming that those who operate and maintain the camera network are always responsible people. What then, are your thoughts on the numerous cases of CCTV abuse by police and civilians in other cities that have adopted such a program? One case I read had a police officer blackmailing a man with footage acquired of him entering a gay bar. The potential for higher-level abuse is even more dangerous and these cameras are not the convenience store variety: they’re high-resolution and digitally recorded, which means serious potential for future use of biometrics and profile building.
    The vast majority of the public support CCTV because the facts around these things are largely assumed. Before you take the position of “absolutely zero problem” with being monitored by these things, I encourage you to dig into the details surrounding the project. Look at our own police track record for adhering to the privacy commissioner’s guidelines as well as the experience of other cities. I think you’ll find that there’s ample reason to oppose these devices.

  • tpscDan

    And now that I’ve finally managed to figure out the login system here (for some reason Torontoist doesn’t seem to like Konqueror), I should identify myself as the guy who wrote the preceding post.

  • Mathew Kumar

    I, er, still don’t have a problem with CCTV? I suppose I could put “in principle” here, if I felt like it.
    Are you (Daniel) broadly against the cameras under any circumstances? I think there’s obviously space for cameras to be implemented in a very useful manner that aids police rather than replacing them (which I consider a bit scare-mongery.)

  • Mathew Kumar

    Also, that study was pretty good. Seems to be chock-full of useful tips on how it is entirely possible for CCTV to be useful as part of a broad strategy, rather than something to be ignored completely.

  • guest

    I live at Yonge and College, and have no problems with the cameras either. Standing on the busiest street in the country is not where I expect to have any privacy that can be violated.

  • Robin Rix

    I’m generally against the widespread use of surveillance cameras to conduct random fishing expeditions of people’s public behaviour — let’s blame an early childhood exposure to Nineteen Eighty-Four — but the Toronto Public Space Committee’s campaign against them could be strengthened.
    First, the Gill and Spriggs report quoted by the TPSC is not the UK government’s “own research” (from the above post) or “a report from the British Home Office” (from the TPSC website). It was a report commissioned (not written) by the Home Office and does not necessarily express what the Home Office thinks. Based on my experiences of living in the UK, where cameras proliferate, I’m pretty certain that it’s not what the Home Office thinks.
    Second, the report is equivocal in its findings. It suggests that CCTV may reduce crime of certain types and in certain spaces. It is not nearly as strident in its opposition as the TPSC suggests.
    Indeed, common sense suggests that CCTV is effective in reducing crimes committed by people acting out of economic gain (e.g. vehicle theft, planned burglaries) or in spaces where cameras are more likely to identify someone reliably (e.g. enclosed spaces like banks or parking garages). Conversely, CCTV is less likely to be effective when it comes to people who aren’t in a good state of mind — because they’re drunk or high, for example — and/or aren’t fussed about the consequences of their actions. I doubt that cameras have much effect on smash and grab crime, people looking to prove something to their peer group, or people with little to lose from being caught. Speaking personally I can say that cameras do nothing to allay my fear of running into drunken yobs in the streets of London at night.
    If the TPSC is going to be against CCTV (and bless ‘em for doing so):
    1 – acknowledge that cameras may make sense in some contexts
    2 – save the fire for the contexts in which they don’t make sense

  • guest

    I challenge anyone to coherently explain how CCTV violates a persons privacy when said person is located in a public area.
    Wikipedia, while not being the truth oracle, has a very nice one-liner for privacy: “It is the ability of an individual or group to keep their lives and personal affairs out of public view, or to control the flow of information about themselves”.
    The “who’s gonna monitor the monitors” arguments is pretty much pointless. Taking it to its logical conclusion there’s only once scenario possible – monkeys in the jungle because any authority figure would require somebody to monitor their actions so forth.
    CCTV is a deterrent. The fact that nobody is going to your rescue while you are being mugged on CCTV could easily support ineffectiveness of police force in the same scenario.
    I would welcome full CCTV coverage of the city.

  • rek

    #10 – Would you be OK with the city hiring someone to follow you around and note your every move in public space? In short, to stalk you? It may be public space, but you still have a reasonable expectation of privacy: if someone is following you around the park, staring at you, looking into your shopping bags when you put them down, etc, you’re within your rights to complain or tell them off.
    Being in public is not the same as being consistently monitored. Ten thousand people may see you as you walk from Bloor to Queen, but they aren’t making note of your actions and pooling these notes later to see everything you did.
    The potential for abuse is enormous even before you consider the footage could be fed into biometric software in 10 years to build a detailed profile of everything you’ve done in public. You even quote the line “… or control the flow of information about themselves”. Public cameras record information about your activities, and not just suspect criminal activities: ALL public activities.
    The only deterrent effect CCTV cameras have is to move some crimes away from where they’re installed. Crimes of opportunity become crimes of somewhat fewer opportunities, until eventually they’re committed regardless of CCTV presence.
    Cameras in public spaces also infringe on your freedom of mobility if you wish to avoid being spied on. Private property is a completely different matter, here we’re talking about sidewalks and intersections and streets. Unable to do anything about the flow of information, you become trapped in your own home.
    CCTV footage is easily abused by those few who have access to it, and has no role in the reporting of a crime or the first response toward same.

  • Marc Lostracco

    I’ll bet that the majority of the time, the Entertainment District cameras are zoomed-in on the boobs of the women in line at the clubs rather than looking for fights/drugs. I’m not joking.

  • Mathew Kumar

    Rek,
    I think some of the things you’ve said really aren’t useful when you’re talking to someone whose already said they’re not bothered by CCTV. They’re a bit too overblown. For one, CCTV is not like the city hiring one guy to follow you around in public at all times. At very best it’s like them hiring a guy to stand in the location of each CCTV camera and watch the surrounding area. I can see why that idea weirds people out, but as a person who has often, you know, sat on a chair in public and watched the surrounding area and sometimes even wrote things about the people I saw because what they were doing was funny/interesting, I’m kind of sound with the idea of being watched as part of an overall street scene.
    And I really think you are still talking about “potential abuse” when you say things like “ten thousand people may see you as you walk from Bloor to Queen, but they aren’t making note of your actions and pooling these notes later to see everything you did.”
    I don’t actually see that happening anywhere right now. Does it?
    And when you go on to talk about “The only deterrent effect CCTV…” It seems you ignored that study, which, yeah, explains they can be quite a bit more useful than that as part of an overall police strategy.
    CCTV would be easy to abuse, sure, but so are all sorts of police and civilian databases, guns, etc. And yet we trust these things in the hands of people we deem responsible, so people against CCTV need to start showing to me something more than “potential for abuse” and “loss of privacy” (Which I seriously don’t see) to make me see their argument. Unless that is their argument, which is fine, I just don’t consider it helpful. A better use of energy seems to be to fight against the potential for abuse, making sure there’s a good system of checks and balances etc. not fighting to keep the cameras from being put up full stop.

  • Robin Rix

    Matthew,
    I think that arguments against widespread use of CCTV go beyond the “potential for abuse” and “privacy” concerns. They also extend to:
    Effectiveness — do cameras merely displace crime and/or are cameras effective only against certain types of crime (e.g. where criminals are acting out of self-interest, like car theft and bank robberies)? I can’t see how cameras will do anything to reduce crimes committed by people who are drunk, high, or looking to impress their peer group.
    Economic efficiency — if there’s a proposal to vastly expand the police budget, are cameras the most cost-effective way of reducing crime? More officers and better community policing might be a more efficient use of limited resources.
    I’m not minimizing the strength of the “potential for abuse” and “privacy” concerns. The analogy that you suggested — “hiring a guy to stand in the location of each CCTV camera and watch the surrounding area” — is actually quite apt. There’s a phrase for the type of state in which you’re constantly being monitored by authority figures as you go about your business.

  • rek

    Mathew – I can see your point, but it’s not at all like being seen as part of a pedestrian milieu; the footage from every camera you pass can be stitched together to track your movements. Digital records are not at all like one person’s memory of events, they can’t be examined or put into a larger context. When someone walks out of your line of sight they might as well be walking off the edge of the world; when someone leaves one camera’s range they enter another, and then another, and another, and then the police have a potentially uninterrupted and zoomable record of that person’s journey. Who do they stop to talk to? How often do they walk that route? Always at that time? You don’t know, but the guys with the DVRs can find out if they want.
    The best way to prevent someone from abusing new powers is to deny them said powers.
    CCTV abuse isn’t hypothetical, it happens:
    • 2 Sefton council employees imprisoned in Merseyside England for CCTV voyeurism;
    • 2 investigated in Tyneside for distributing stills from police CCTV cams in local pubs;
    • a Washington DC top cop tried blackmailing married patrons of gay bars when he cross-referenced their license plates (recorded by cameras) with police databases;
    • Detroit Free Press found the Michigan CCTV database was used to stalk women and track ex-spouses;
    • in Britain again, manned cameras were found to focus on blacks a disproportionate amount of the time, and researchers found that the almost entirely male staff had used the cameras to spy on 1 in 10 women;
    • New York cops used a helicopter-mounted thermal imaging-equipped camera to record a couple having sex instead of the illegal bike rally they were tasked with;
    • a Tuscaloosa, Alabama traffic camera was commandeered by an employee of the state trooper office and used to zoom in on the breasts of college women leaving nightclubs, which was then broadcast on local TV channel 45 instead of the usual traffic footage;
    • a San Francisco PD officer was suspended 9 months for using airport security cameras to ogle women;
    • the civilian operator of police dept cameras in Worchester UK was discovered to have made a 20 minute video of breasts and asses from the cameras he operated…
    I doubt any of the people abused by these camera operators felt they had anything to hide at the time either.
    If you or anyone else doesn’t feel that public cameras are an invasion of your rights, then I can’t say anything to change that. I’ve been in more than my share of discussions with people who fight extending equal marriage rights to homosexuals, or argue the repeal of abortion rights, because those aren’t rights they personally wish to have. You may not value your own privacy, but that doesn’t mean you get to chuck everyone else’s away.

  • Mathew Kumar

    I appreciate the information Rek, I consider it valuable and interesting. I consider that your last paragraph is a (very wrong) low-blow which I didn’t really like, but it doesn’t dent the value of the preceding information too much.
    I guess my whole point is that I can see CCTV cameras being very effective in certain contexts. We can’t prevent someone from abusing new powers by denying them said powers in all cases where said powers may be helpful in certain situations – there’s a thin line there when it comes to powers but CCTV cameras in public are below it. In the ones I see I’m not “chucking anyone’s privacy away” you can consider me naive, but the histrionic words and actions of those against CCTV are are a far bigger turn off than the worry of being seen as such.
    Yeah, really wish you hadn’t put that final paragraph down.

  • David Topping

    “I’ll bet that the majority of the time, the Entertainment District cameras are zoomed-in on the boobs of the women in line at the clubs rather than looking for fights/drugs. I’m not joking.”
    Marc, the cameras aren’t monitored live in any way; unless they have automatic boob detection installed they’re not gonna be tracking ‘em.

  • rek

    Mathew – It wasn’t meant as a low-blow, just examples of similar discussions I’ve been in. A decade ago I would have subbed in the church/state separation. We are all entitled to these rights whether or we’re able or willing to take advantage of them or supportive of those who do. If we don’t all stand up for our rights, we will all lose them.
    At what point does effectiveness justify infringing on rights? Is a slightly lower auto theft rate in the downtown core more important than freedom of association? If Blair said they’re looking into an arbitrary search and seizure program to cut down on illegal guns, would you let the police pat you down and search your bags whenever they wanted?
    David – The traffic camera in Tuscalusa wasn’t supposed to be manned either. To compound how disturbing that situation is, the investigation tracked the remote control commands to their source but to my knowledge nobody was named, and the investigators seemed more concerned with making it clear that overriding channel 45 was probably not intentional.

  • Mathew Kumar

    Rek – Similarly, I don’t see what church and state separation has to do with anything either. The discussions seem very much not the same.
    At best, I can give you that my line, while very definite, is set in a different location than yours. To me, “arbitrary search and seizure” is entirely different from being watched in public. To you, it is not. I think this is one of those agree to disagree things? I can’t relate to someone who sees CCTV in public as analogous to regular random searches.

  • rek

    Mathew – When you’re facing someone who says “I don’t think it’s a big deal”, it feels the same regardless of the rights or freedoms in question.