Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cameras, Cameras Everywhere

At West Falls Church station on the Orange Line, eight cameras cover a small section at the end of the platform.

From CS:
In recent months, with no fanfare or notice, what must be hundreds of new surveillance cameras have sprouted in the Metrorail system. As a result, Metro is now, or is planned to be, one of the most heavily surveilled places in the region. A rider might traverse dozens of cameras on a single trip alone.
For example, at Metro Center, the ceiling of the downstairs Blue/Orange Line platform has been torn down for months, with no indication when repairs will be complete. But that hasn’t stopped the surveillance cameras from sprouting.

Installation of these cameras – especially on the heels of Metro’s highly questionable “security theater” bag checks – raises worrisome questions. Some (but, in the interest of disclosure, not me) might welcome the cameras as a necessary concession to security, much as some thought the bag checks were OK.

But even if you buy the security argument, that doesn’t mean a plethora of new cameras is necessarily the best use of scarce funds or the most productive or appropriate way to protect people. For example, the cameras raise issues such as:
  • How many of these cameras has Metro installed thus far, and how many are ultimately planned?
  • How much are they costing, and what is the funding source?
  • What are the specific objective(s) for which they are being installed?
  • How will the imagery be managed? In a central location? At individual stations?
  • Will the imagery be monitored in real time, or stored for later viewing?
  • Are the camera coverage areas fixed, or will there be operators who can move and direct camera coverage? (Like, as has happened elsewhere, to zoom in on attractive women.)
  • How long will the imagery be maintained?
  • For what other purposes will the imagery be used?
  • Does Metro plan to apply other technology against imagery that is captured, such as facial recognition? Allow others to do so?
  • What safeguards and operating procedures have been adopted to prevent abuse?
  • Has Metro considered constitutional issues that this blanket surveillance might raise?

Metro has said little if anything about this en masse deployment. We wanted to find out answers to these questions. Metro’s response was typical:

Given Metro management’s perpetual dysfunction, there’s little reason to believe the camera installations have been well thought out, or their utility weighed against other options for providing a more secure system. (Have the Metro cops who hide out in driver cabs actually get out and be visible on trains or in stations?) More likely, it’s a familiar story of someone getting paid a bunch of money to put the cameras in, probably using some federal grant, and the cameras will ultimately make little difference in daily activities.

Meanwhile, the surveillance state expands yet again.

Other items: 
Google maps adds real-time transit info (Mashable)

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