When Does Surveillance Become Intrusive

In a post 9/11 world it is clear to me that certain changes need to be made to improve our security. In concept I haven’t a big problem with it, but in practice I find some of this to be troubling as I see potential for abuse of the new rules.

CHICAGO – A car circles a high-rise three times. Someone leaves a backpack in a park.

Such things go unnoticed in big cities every day. But that could change in Chicago with a new video surveillance system that would recognize such anomalies and alert authorities to take a closer look.

On Thursday, the city and IBM Corp. are announcing the initial phase of what officials say could be the most advanced video security network in any U.S. city. The City of Broad Shoulders is getting eyes in the back of its head.

“Chicago is really light years ahead of any metropolitan area in the U.S. now,” said Sam Docknevich, who heads video-surveillance consulting for IBM.

Chicago already has thousands of security cameras in use by businesses and police — including some equipped with devices that recognize the sound of a gunshot, turn the cameras toward the source and place a 911 call. But the new system would let cameras analyze images in real time 24 hours a day.

“You’re talking about creating (something) that knows no fatigue, no boredom and is absolutely focused,” said Kevin Smith, spokesman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

For example, the system could be programmed to alert the city’s emergency center whenever a camera spots a vehicle matching the description of one being sought by authorities.

The system could be programmed to recognize license plates. It could alert emergency officials if the same car or truck circles the Sears Tower three times or if nobody picks up a backpack in Grant Park for, say, 30 seconds.

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