Chicago’s Camera Network Is Everywhere

William Bulkeley reports on yet another city falling victim to a techno-panopticon, in the Wall Street Journal:

A giant web of video-surveillance cameras has spread across Chicago, aiding police in the pursuit of criminals but raising fears that the City of Big Shoulders is becoming the City of Big Brother.

While many police forces are boosting video monitoring, video-surveillance experts believe Chicago has gone further than any other U.S. city in merging computer and video technology to police the streets. The networked system is also unusual because of its scope and the integration of nonpolice cameras.

The city links the 1,500 cameras that police have placed in trouble spots with thousands more—police won’t say how many—that have been installed by other government agencies and the private sector in city buses, businesses, public schools, subway stations, housing projects and elsewhere. Even home owners can contribute camera feeds.

Rajiv Shah, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has studied the issue, estimates that 15,000 cameras have been connected in what the city calls Operation Virtual Shield, its fiber-optic video-network loop.

The system is too vast for real-time monitoring by police staffers. But each time a citizen makes an emergency call, which happens about 15,000 times a day, the system identifies the caller’s location and instantly puts a video feed from the nearest camera up on a screen to the left of the emergency operator’s main terminal. The feeds, including ones that weren’t viewed in real time, can be accessed for possible evidence in criminal cases.

A police spokesman said the system has “aided in thousands of arrests.” Video cameras caught 16-year-old Michael Pace, an alleged Chicago gang member, opening fire with a 40-caliber handgun on a city bus in a 2007 incident that claimed the life of 16-year-old honor student Blair Holt and wounded four others. In July, Mr. Pace pleaded guilty to murder on the eve of his trial, and the video was released during a hearing where a judge sentenced him to 100 years in jail…

[continues in the Wall Street Journal]

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