- The Right to Be Let Alone
Privacy, Security, Public policy, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Surveilance
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The AutoDome and EnviroDome pan-tilt-zoom surveillance cameras, manufactured by Bosch, can scan 360 degrees at all times. Their footage, LSC says, is saved for up to fourteen days, then is discarded unless the organization is contacted by law enforcement to preserve it. Up to eighteen hours a day, depending on the day, LSC's staff members sit in a room at the organization's headquarters on Conestoga Street and watch footage. They are trained in the "ethics and accountabilities associated with monitoring public spaces," and "diversity and cultural awareness," among other things. If they see something suspicious, they call the police. If the police need to find evidence for a crime, they call LSC. To protect the privacy of homes, masking software is used to place blackout bars over windows.
"There are two modes of surveillance as a form of social control," Ben Brock Johnson, the host of Codebreaker, a podcast produced by Marketplace and Business Insider, said in an episode on Lancaster's surveillance network, "the kind where the people being watched don't know they're being watched and the kind where knowing you're being watched is part of the plan." Everybody in Lancaster knows they're being watched and moderates their actions when in public; the control of behavior, the loss of trust, is the price they pay for safety. Former mayor Charlie Smithgall tells Johnson that the camera system is, "a good witness."
Studies show surveillance does not deter crime. Experts say cameras erode public trust. LSC's budget is about $420,000 a year. That amount of money, redirected, could put another eleven or twelve police officers on the streets.
So why do Lancastrians love their cameras? Why do they "adopt a camera" to fund and maintain, petition for cameras on more corners, ask LSC to watch their children on camera as they walk to and from school? Why do they even install their own cameras and register them with Lancaster City's Bureau of Police? Maybe it's because support for the cameras is like virtue signaling: If you don't mind being watched, it must mean you have nothing to hide. [End Page 19]
Ann Neumann is author of The Good Death (Beacon, 2016) and has written for Harper's, the New York Times, the Baffler, and other publications.