Park surveillance camera can zoom in and read what you’re reading

“It’s being done all over the U.S. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t have a problem with it.”

–  City Manager Curt Davis

Tribune-Democrat | Aug 24, 2008

Under the lens: Central Park camera raises privacy questions


Johnstown, PA and county officials – if they wanted to – could tell whether a Central Park lunchgoer’s ham sandwich came with seeded or unseeded rye bread.

Or, at 50 paces, whether that new lipstick you’re wearing is Ruby Red or Rosy Glow.

A surveillance camera on the second floor of the Central Park Complex at Franklin and Locust streets allows them that option.

Officials say they aren’t interested in being nosy for nosiness’ sake. But they want the camera – which came as a surprise to parkgoers – to stay, nonetheless.

“Central Park is so important to downtown – with concerts, the Christmas Village,” City Manager Curt Davis said.

“If you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t have a problem with it. This gives me another tool to monitor Central Park, it doesn’t cost me anything, and I’m all for it.”

Davis has a monitor in his City Hall office. He said he watches park goings-on periodically, for a few minutes at a time.

The park is Davis’ latest cause: He has put up signs alerting residents of littering fines, and a half-dozen people have been banned from the park for various offenses. None of those bans apparently was related to the use of the camera.

The camera was installed in April after the Integrated Emergency Operations Center – a multitiered government venture – moved from Broad Street to the downtown offices.

Because the camera has been around awhile, officials couldn’t immediately say what it cost. Ebensburg Borough Manager Dan Penatzer estimated that a camera there cost a few thousand dollars.

The lens can rotate _360 degrees and zoom in and out. It isn’t hooked up to a tape machine but can recall images taken earlier.

“If you had a name tag like this,” Davis said at City Hall, displaying his own, “we could read it.”

And privacy experts said that’s precisely the problem.

Privacy concerns

“Cameras cut down on uninhibited activity and autonomy,” said Robert Ellis Smith, an attorney and publisher of the Privacy Journal in Providence, R.I.

“For instance, this camera can zoom way in. What if you’re reading a newspaper, or reading a book. People in a park: They date, they hold hands, they kiss. What if they’re holding a political meeting?” he said.

Americans are entitled to certain privacy protections even in public, he said.

“And we want people to be relaxed in a park setting,” he said.

“While it is legal, I _think it’s very, very inappropriate.”

Ron Springer, county emergency management director, disagrees.

“We aren’t here to spy on people, nor do we intend to,” he said. “We’re not trying to be the eye in the sky on a covert mission.

“If I could put it in a nutshell, it’s just another means of building security, say, if we had a building lockdown (at Central Park Complex) in a 9/11-type situation,” Springer said.

He said the camera will be monitored only if there is a special need to do so. And it can’t see very well at night.

But Davis said the camera could be useful in prosecuting crime in the park. If police are promptly notified, the camera can be “rewound” hours later to display the incident.

Who’s watching

According to Davis, the camera can be monitored from city Fire Chief Tony Kovacic’s office at Central Park Complex, from the sheriff’s department and from Davis’ office.

The camera isn’t the first in the city. Two years ago, the IEOC installed a camera atop the Inclined Plane to keep a watch over downtown during Thunder in the Valley. But trees obscured the view of the park.

Outdoor cameras also keep an eye on Washington Street in front of the Penn Traffic Building, home of U.S. District Court and the National Drug Intelligence Center. And lenses out back can film up into Prospect Hill. Some city parking garages have cameras hooked to VCRs.

Davis said vandalism at the Lincoln Street Garage was prosecuted through videotape. City police declined to comment.

“It’s being done all over the U.S. and in Pittsburgh, and it’s appropriate” in areas that require monitoring, Davis said. He also noted the trend toward light-pole cameras that catch drivers running red lights.

Kovacic, a member of the IEOC, agrees.

“It gives us an opportunity to cover a lot of ground in terms of public safety,” he said. For instance, Kovacic said, the camera would have been useful had it been operating when Chelsea _Clinton spoke at the park.

Smith, though, said such unregulated surveillance is disturbing.

“It is amazing in the United States, these cameras are just sprouting up without any regulation,” he said.

And he questioned whether, in this case, such cameras serve an appropriate emergency management purpose.

“It sounds like they_just had the money and decided they’d put it up,” he said. “More regulation is needed.”


6 responses to “Park surveillance camera can zoom in and read what you’re reading

  1. “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t have a problem with it.”

    One of my perennial least favorite phrases, or words like that.

    And I had to deal with that as a child–if my parents thought I didn’t want to discuss something/anything–of course it must be something horrible that must be pried out of me. Privacy was just a non issue that meant I was hiding something.

  2. Children are people too after all.

    I am mulling over something this libertarian youtube guy said about procrastination and its roots. He said it is something to do with childhood enslavement, how parents tend to treat the child like a slave, ordering them around without explaining the whys and wherefores. This he says is one reason they tend to rebel to the point of being a pain in the butt, because it is something inherent in our dignity as human beings to want to be treated with respect, to be clued in, to participate and to contribute our share.

    He said, you often get a lot more out of children in terms of cooperation if they feel clued in and are enjoined to help in the overall project of family life, classroom life or whatever it is. But instead, much of the time, the child is simply ordered like a dog, “Do this! and No! Don’t do that! Because I said so!” We then carry these parental “orders” with us into adulthood where we continue to rebel and it manifests as procrastination, putting things off over and over again, because we are saying to ourselves, “I gotta do this. I can’t do that. I have do it.” etc, instead of saying “I want to do it.”

    He explains further that in fact, there is nothing you really HAVE to do since everything is a choice with either good or bad consequences. If you think about it. You don’t HAVE to get out of bed in the morning. You may want to to keep your job, but again, you don’t HAVE to keep your job either, especially since you probably hate it if you are like most Americans.

    Anyway, to stay on the topic of privacy, even small children have private lives that they keep because they develop a sense that there is something important, unique and individual about themselves worth guarding even from their parents. It is after all, on a need to know basis with loved ones, but especially so with the public and even more so with the government of the ruling class. Privacy is sacred and anyone who violates it is violating your inalienable rights. There might be some exceptions, but that is and should always be the rule.

    Of course, the Illuminati never play fair and they never play by the rules. I will make one addition to that: they do however always tell us ahead of time what their plans are, although usually in a cryptic form, for “legal” purposes.

  3. What is the City Manager doing with a security video monitor? He is not a cop. But here’s a fun thought – soon (probably already happened) some monitor watcher will see his/her spouse with a new friend, or see their children shoplifting, or see their other car speed through a stoplight, or see their brother mugging an old lady, etc. What will they do??

  4. If he is a good little commie, he will turn them in just as he is taught in the re-education camp.

    As to why councilmen are allowed to run surveillance on citizens, this is because it is coming down from Britain where all the Big Brother stuff descends from. It was not mere coincidence that 1984 takes place in Britain. Today, the city councils actually have the power to snoop on citizens, read their emails, tap their phones, check their web logs, snoop around their homes etc etc. They are the new Stasi and it is already happening in America, land of the sheep, home of the slave.

  5. And now another fascist law enters the UK.
    knowing my rights under English common laws 6189 they can go and get stuffed!
    Anyone unsure try TPUC.ORG

    Jacqui Smith’s ‘Stasi’ – official
    by IanPJ on Wed 27 Aug 2008 12:11 BST

    Security guards and town hall workers are being armed with sweeping police-style powers, it has emerged.

    For a few hundred pounds, state and private sector employees can receive Home Office accreditation.

    This allows them to hand out fines for a raft of offences, from dropping litter to riding a bike on the pavement.

    They can also stop cars to check their tax discs, seize alcohol from underage drinkers and demand people’s names and addresses.

    The hope is that they will free up rank-and-file officers from having to perform these unpopular tasks. The uniformed, badged army of snoopers will become a vital part of the ‘extended police family’, ministers say.

    But privacy campaigners have dubbed them Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s ‘Stasi’ after the East German secret police.

    Phil Booth of NO2ID said: ‘This is a sinister move towards a Stasi snooper state in which jobsworths are devolved the powers of the police – including the right to demand you identify yourself.’

    They can wear a special badge, and a uniform approved by the local chief constable. At present, they are wearing their employer’s existing uniform with the badge sewn on, but police chiefs could eventually be encouraged to decide on a standard uniform across their force area, the Home Office said.
    The department said that the revenue raised by the fines given out would go to the Treasury, and would not be kept by private firms or councils.

    So it is likely that the only people who would be attracted by this scheme, are people who have a desire to be little Hitler’s, want to wear a uniform and flash a badge at everyone.

    They should feel right at home in a uniform just like this then.
    Here is a photo of a Nazi officer…

  6. Under article 61 of Magna Carta 1215 (the founding document of our Constitution) we have a right to enter into lawful rebellion if we feel we are being governed unjustly. Contrary to common belief our Sovereign and her government are only there to govern us, and not to rule us and this must be done within the constraint of our Common Law and the freedoms asserted to us by such Law, nothing can become law in this country if it falls outside of this simple constraint.

    Article 61 shows quite clearly who really holds the power in this country, that being quite simply us the people; we have Sovereignty not any Parliament and nor can this be taken from us by any Parliament who claim to have taken the people’s Sovereignty. As defined above any act passed by a Parliament to remove the power the people possess, or to remove the power from the point of constraint we invested the power in, is invalid as it falls outside of the constraint laid down by Common/Constitutional Law.

    Being in a state of Lawful Rebellion against the crown affords to me the full protection of the Common Law of this land to hinder in any way possible all actions of the treasonous government of this land,
    Join in it costs nothing with much to gain.

    These rights were given for ALL time.

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