The Charlotte Observer is reporting that the town of Pineville (which sits on Charlotte’s southern edge) is planning to install a town-wide camera monitoring network in order to “deter crime”. The first cameras are already up in the town’s center, and the police are already claiming that this is not a “covert” system designed to monitor citizens’ private lives (they swear!).
This is curious for several reasons. Most strikingly, the Observer’s report (which was published after the first cameras were already installed) is the first mention of this program from any town official. There is no mention of the program in the town council’s meeting minutes, and the town has yet to even disclose the cost of such an ambitious undertaking. Considering the privacy violations inherent in this type of blanket-coverage surveillance program, the public officials in charge of this project should be more open about its means, goals, and ends. There is also no evidence that a discussion about the legality of such program ever took place. Can the town simply film every person that happens to wander through town, or is such surveillance an illegal search prohibited by the Fourth Amendment? Or does the Pineville Police Department just expect us to trust them when they promise not to use the cameras to peer into our living rooms?
Another question that needs to be answered is whether this (possibly illegal) surveillance is even necessary. A quick perusal of the Mecklenburg County crime statistics suggests not. In the last 6 months, there has been exactly 1 crime within a one-mile radius of the town center (Pineville isn’t exactly a large town).
So is all of this time, effort, and invasion of privacy necessary to prevent one crime? Probably not.
The final wrinkle in Pineville’s effort to put Orwell to shame is the town’s audacious “request” (bullying is probably a more accurate description) that the town’s businesses buy these cameras (at their own expense) and hook them up to the police department’s surveillance network. So, it’s bad enough that the town is (secretly) buying and installing these cameras, but now they want local businesses to bear the cost of this government spying. Their brazeness is simply stunning.
These cameras are an unnecessary and potentially dangerous idea. Pineville doesn’t have a crime problem, and even if it did, that wouldn’t justify obtrusive, warrantless government spying. If the town is truly concerned about crime (given Pineville’s history, it shouldn’t be), it should either hire more police or encourage local businesses to take their own security precautions. Of particular concern is the town’s almsot uniform silence on the matter and the lack of input from the citizens who live there. There is no need to transform this quiet little suburb into a First World police state.