New York City is going to spend $212 million placing 1,000 video cameras and 3,000 motion sensors in the city's subways, bridges, and tunnels. Is it the best user of funds? Security expert Bruce Schneier doesn't think so:
...there is no evidence that cameras are effectice at reducing either terrorism and crime, and every reason to believe that they are ineffective?
One reason is that it's the "movie plot threat" of the moment. (You can hear the echos of the movie plots when you read the various quotes in the news stories.) The terrorists bombed a subway in London, so we need to defend our subways. The other reason is that New York City officials are erring on the side of caution.
The DHS is unleashing funds to assist local and state governments in deploying surveillance equipment. Privacy advocates have major concerns. A May 2005 report from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said:
Several American cities looked to Great Britain’s surveillance system when developing their own. London has 200,000 cameras, and more than 4 million cameras have been deployed throughout the country. It is estimated that there is one camera for every 14 people. The average Briton is seen by 300 cameras per day, according to estimates. However, several studies have shown that these systems have very little effect on crime. In 2002, the British Home Office examined 22 camera surveillance systems in North America and the United Kingdom, and found that such systems had a small effect on crime. It is more effective to place more officers on the streets and improve lighting in high-crime areas.
The fact that the technology for surveillance is becoming less costly, more sophisticated and automated has something to do with New York City's decision, which makes it more palatable to error on the side of caution. Given the privacy issues and questions about the effectiveness of extensive surveillance systems in public spaces, make sure those concerns are addressed before turning on the cameras.