By Spencer Michels, PBS
Americans are used to being watched on closed-circuit TV. Cameras are ubiquitous, especially in large cities.
The video surveillance industry brings in $3.2 billion dollars a
year, and it’s expected to grow quickly, especially after the Boston
Marathon bombings. At one business in San Francisco, 22 cameras
continually watch employees and guests enter and leave the building and
drive their cars into and out of the garage. It’s all recorded for
A guard monitors the cameras in real time, and one night recently,
those cameras caught this scene: a woman employee going to her car on
the street while a male watches her and starts to follow. As he circles
back to her car, for some reason, he sees other vehicles approaching and
he makes a quick exit.
Would the cameras have helped had there been a crime? Could their
more obvious presence have prevented one? It’s all part of today’s
debate over surveillance….
SPENCER MICHELS: Ozer maintains that San Francisco’s cameras
installed to prevent crime, like those in many other cities, have not
achieved their goal. And she cites a study made by researchers at the
University of California, Berkeley, led by assistant professor of information Deirdre Mulligan.
DEIRDRE MULLIGAN, University of California,
Berkeley: What we found in San Francisco with respect to this set of
cameras is that they didn’t have the desired effect, which was really
about reducing violent crime.
And one can imagine, if you deploy cameras, for example, to deal with
terrorists, many terrorists are planning to die anyway, right, and the
fact that they’re being filmed in their moment of martyrdom isn’t really
going to deter them.
SPENCER MICHELS: Mulligan contends the police can’t rely on cameras.
DEIRDRE MULLIGAN: You need people on the ground. There are millions
of backpacks, right? And knowing when somebody puts down a backpack and
whether or not that’s a suspicious activity when you’re miles away in a
camera booth and you have been watching footage for eight hours that day
is really a tall order….