Chicago’s citizen surveillance the most extensive & integrated in US

Warren: Surveillance City

One legacy of Rahm Emanuel is digitally clear. Security cameras will follow us like a bad credit rating.

The Missile’s bravura early performance includes a drastic increase in cameras to protect us from bad guys and to keep us from breaking laws, notably speeding, even while surely accelerating a loss of individual privacy.

The city’s traditional lack of transparency on the extent of cameras, and a legacy of illegal surveillance dating to Mayor Richard J. Daley, are woeful. But the public is more interested in Jay Cutler’s thumb than in potential abuses of zoom technology, facial recognition, biometrics, the ability to track somebody from one camera to another and then combining or sharing databases.

Last week the mayor stood with Police Chief Garry McCarthy, and Forrest Claypool, the head of the Chicago Transit Authority, as they rightly praised rapid installation of another 1,700 C.T.A security cameras.

But now add several thousand more cameras planned near schools and parks — meant to catch speeders endangering children — and you’ve got a hefty increase in what was already the most “extensive and integrated” surveillance system in the United States, according to Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security secretary.

A February report by the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that Chicago had 10,000 surveillance cameras. Let’s now figure on another 4,000 or so.

At a Green Line stop, the city leaders cited recent crime-fighting successes tied to cameras. The findings of academic studies on a link between cameras and reduced crime are debatable, but how can you not cheer Claypool’s assertion that they’ve helped nab killers and robbers?

Andrew Koppelman, a Northwestern University law professor, said, “It is not to argue that Emanuel is wrong, especially in areas where crimes are likely. But limits are crucial, and the costs of knowing you’re being watched can outweigh the benefits.”

Limits sought by Adam Schwartz, senior lawyer for the A.C.L.U. of Illinois, include disclosing the number of cameras and promulgating rules on when a camera operator can use zoom, facial recognition or automatic tracking capabilities.

The Emanuel administration might talk to Lior Strahilevitz, a young star at the University of Chicago Law School. He is an expert on property law, privacy law and traffic safety, and recently lectured on his germane new book, “Information and Exclusion” (Yale University Press).

For sure, use technology to save lives and prevent traffic accidents, Strahilevitz said. But also do the following:

Collect only information essential to traffic safety enforcement, programming cameras to blur a driver’s image. Limit how long information is kept, perhaps purging files every 30 or 60 days. Make most cameras as visible as possible. Curb the merging of disparate databases or their sale to private companies for other purposes. And restrict the public availability of data, because information that was anonymous when published can be tied to specific individuals years later as data mining improves.

It’s an intrusive era. Insurers know that those who buy felt pads to place under table legs to avoid scratching floors are obsessives who pay their bills on time; clerks may soon not ask if you’re just browsing since they’ll know your tendency via biometrics; and tracking data can discern your politics and whether you see a psychiatrist or frequent a casino.

“The thought of Richard Nixon having access to the sort of data now available to government should make anyone shudder,” Strahilevitz said.

And data security is only as reliable as the weakest human link in the surveillance chain. Just consider how it is that Pfc. Bradley Manning, a low-level Army intelligence analyst, is accused of transferring those prodigious government files to WikiLeaks.

At the Green Line stop, the Missile exuded justified confidence, especially given recent victories, like sweet-talking a somewhat wimpy City Council to pass his budget unanimously.

He is well seasoned too in massaging the national news media, with a journalist in tow being given access for a profile in The Atlantic.

It inadvertently reminded me of a flattering “60 Minutes” profile while he was President Obama’s chief of staff. Emanuel showed Katie Couric a monitor where he tracked key White House officials and family members via GPS technology.

I don’t suspect that the mayor — who has a city camera focused on his home — has the will to track most of his constituents similarly. But, make no mistake, technology offers the way.

Resistance building to Rahm’s school closings.

Resistance is building to Rahm Emanuel’s latest school-closing plan. The plan — which in effect is a school privatization plan — calls for the closing of neighborhood schools and replacing many of them with privately-managed, non-union, charter schools. Many of Chicago’s community-based organizations are organizing and rallying their supporters, in a united front with the Chicago Teachers Union, to stop the closures. Nine community groups from Albany Park to Roseland Tuesday presented a “Neighborhoods Agenda for Schools,” a wide-ranging plan that calls for significant investment in struggling neighborhood schools rather than school closures. Last Tuesday, about 40 people jammed into the lobby of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s headquarters and held a press conference to announce their opposition.

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