Sunday, February 26, 2006

Houston "Someone is Watching"

Feel like you're being watched?
That's probably because you are.
Police Chief Harold Hurtt sparked debate with his recent proposal to install surveillance cameras downtown, at apartment complexes and even at some private homes to combat crime. But cameras already are rolling all over the city: at rail stations, schools, malls, highways, banks and convenience stores.
"In a big city, it's increasingly hard to go throughout the day without being captured on many surveillance cameras," Daniel Solove, a law professor at George Washington University who specializes in privacy issues, wrote via e-mail.
Indeed, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has a video camera on top of the Binz Building downtown to monitor Main Street — the same strip where the Houston Police Department hopes to install surveillance cameras.
Shoppers at the Galleria are monitored by camera both inside and outside the mall. Drivers on freeways managed by the Texas Department of Transportation are caught on tape. Commuters at Metro's rail and transfer stations and inside trains, and also soon at Park & Ride lots, are watched on screen from miles away. And if you're cheering at Toyota Center, you can bet you'll be watched on video.
Schools, too, use camera technology to monitor students. A man who police say sexually assaulted a student in a Westbury High School restroom Feb. 9 was caught on one of the school's 128 cameras as he entered the school, though authorities have not arrested a suspect. And officials at Westfield High School used images from a surveillance tape to identify students in a fight.
Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington, D.C.-based privacy-advocate group, said most of those people don't know they're on camera.
"Oftentimes they are concealed purposefully, even in public places, so people don't know or aren't aware that they're being surveilled," Rotenberg said. "They often don't know who's watching them."
Pedestrians on Main Street had mixed feelings this week about the potential for cameras keeping an eye on them.
"I think it's a great idea to cut down on the crime," said a man who identified himself as S. Walter and said he has been mugged three times in the past two years. "I don't mind them watching me at all." (more)