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Atlanta under surveillance 

10,000 security cameras will soon blanket the city. Do you care?

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click to enlarge SECURITY NOTICE: Some proponents say that both cameras and accompanying signs have improved public safety efforts, which have subsequently increased foot traffic in downtown. - JOEFF DAVIS
  • Joeff Davis
  • SECURITY NOTICE: Some proponents say that both cameras and accompanying signs have improved public safety efforts, which have subsequently increased foot traffic in downtown.

The legal organization stresses the importance of having transparency policies surrounding camera use. According to an APD spokesman, the VIC links surveillance footage to any officer who observes archived recordings. The APD has also adopted a 14-day policy for retaining video. That's slightly more lax than Midtown Blue's 10-day rule, but stricter than Baltimore's month-long procedure.

Friedmann, who's studied surveillance policies across the country and overseas, including Israel and the United Kingdom, says that most police departments should automatically discard noncriminal footage after "60 or 90 days." Anything longer, he says, lends itself to abuse. Vandall thinks it's "silly" to actually believe that those guidelines will be enforced.

"You know it's going to be kept forever," he says. "It's going to be valuable just as it was used in England, backing it up for months and seeing what happens on a corner. They're not going to destroy the tapes. I think anyone [who believes that] lives in a bubble."

Friedmann thinks such regulations ensure that citywide surveillance allows for public safety to be maintained, while also adhering to rules that preserve personal privacy. The New York Police Department, for example, has thoroughly outlined and shared its policies for its new Domain Awareness System. He also re-emphasizes the need for balance between public safety and privacy, driving home the point that any security initiative will only be effective if used correctly.

"If you take the right dose of medication, it's fine. If it's not done in the right dose, then it can become poisonous," he says. "It's not the strategy itself, but it's how you use or abuse it."

Shields understands that the city's surveillance is "not going to sit well" with all Atlantans, but the department says it remains committed to obeying the law. Wilkinson, like other staunch surveillance supporters, insists that most privacy concerns are either unfounded or misguided.

"The issue of the violation of privacy ... there's a tendency to panic and exaggerate unnecessarily," Friedmann says. "This doesn't mean that the concerns are not legitimate, whether it's grounded or not is a whole different question."

Emory University Professor Ramnath Chellappa has spent the better part of two decades researching privacy, from security cameras to Internet retailers gauging our online behavior. He contends that people are OK with giving up some privacy in exchange for a perceived increase in public safety. Of course, that's provided there aren't serious negative repercussions associated with privacy breaches.

"There hasn't been noise about it because, en masse, no one has seen the negative consequences," Chellappa says. "There hasn't been evidence of a private firm using this information."

Chellappa has long noticed that many people don't fully understand their rights when it comes to personal information.

"Many people mistakenly presume that there is some kind of constitutional right to online privacy or any kind of privacy, which there isn't," Chellappa says. "To my understanding, there's only the right to not have invasive search and seizure from the legal standpoint."

In many ways, the contentious relationship between security and privacy exists no matter if we're making our way through the heart of Atlanta or Amazon's home page.

"There's an inherent trade-off associated with that which we cannot shy away from," Chellappa says. "When you post a picture on Facebook and share all this personal information, this somehow lends itself to a notion of anonymity, which is obviously not there.

"Similarly, these cameras have become so commonplace that they've become like utilities where we don't know that we have electricity until it goes away," he adds.

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