I wish I could say that this New York Times piece linked to by Slashdot surprises me in the least. It isn’t entirely clear that this is a case of mission creep. That uncertainty may be intentional, remarks from the law enforces responsible make it sound like they envisaged use of this growing network of automated cameras in regular criminal investigations was envisioned all along. The key question is whether that was part of the policy that funded their purchase, deployment and operation in the first place.
Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, nails the problem with the system right on the head.
She said it was hard to tell whether interest in “effective and efficient law enforcement” was being balanced with the “values of privacy and freedom.”
“We don’t know how much information is being recorded and kept, for how long, and by which cameras,” Ms. Lieberman said. “It’s one thing to have information about cars that are stopped for suspicious activity, but it’s something else to basically maintain a permanent database of where particular cars go when there is nothing happening that is wrong and there is no basis for suspicion.”
Most of the uses listed in the article seem innocuous enough but we don’t know if the system is restricted to just effectively extended human driven BOLOs. Operational transparency and privacy safeguards should really be inviolate conditions of establishing networks like this. How else can the public interest hold them accountable and audit they are not in fact creeping in their mission? Too bad that point is really only a very small part of the article which otherwise largely lionizes the cameras.