Chicago Camera Proposal Raises Privacy Concerns

In an effort to reduce crime in Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley wants cameras installed throughout the city at any business open 12 hours a week or more. Some residents are concerned about privacy.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Public surveillance cameras are a very visible part of Chicago's crime fighting efforts, and now a proposal would require businesses open more than 12 hours a day to install video cameras both inside and outside their establishments. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, reporting:

At Chicago's Office of Emergency Management the main feature in the operations center is a massive video wall divided into several sections. Real time scenes of the city's streets and buildings blink onto the wall as provided by the watchful eyes of the city's 2,000 plus motorized video cameras. Alexander Velasquez, the head of Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications says the cameras target high crime spots and other public areas.

Mr. ALEXANDER VELASQUEZ (Office of Emergency Management, Chicago): So we have the ability to monitor traffic cameras monitoring main arterials. We can monitor critical infrastructure. We can monitor areas that we deem could be, let's say potential targets in the city of Chicago.

CORLEY: The city paid for its extensive video network with the help of a five million dollar grant from the Office of Homeland Security. During a recent tour of the emergency facility, Homeland Security Chief, Michael Chertoff, said Chicago is on the right track.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF (Chief, Homeland Security): Video cameras are a relatively inexpensive and very useful tool in both preventing crime and terrorism and also enabling a better response to crime and terrorism.

CORLEY: Crime in Chicago is down and officials say it is due in part to the video cameras. As a result, some of the city's larger businesses have paid to be part of the monitoring system. Chicago city councilman Ray Suarez wants to take it a step further. He's proposing that every licensed business open more than 12 hours a day put security cameras inside their buildings and outside as well to record activity in parking lots or around the building's perimeter.

RAY SUAREZ (Councilman, City of Chicago): There is an issue of making places safe. Now does it guarantee that there's not going to be any crime in the facility? No, but I think it gives it a better chance of not having or deterring a crime.

CORLEY: Some businesses agree with the alderman. At the Golden Nugget Restaurant on Irving and Kensey, general manager Roman Torez says he uses DVD recordings to track what's going on after hours.

ROMAN TOREZ (Manager, Golden Nugget): And it seems that customers don't mind. In fact it helps us out, too, in the restaurant too, because there's times we want to know what certain people come in, certain deliveries come in and so we can keep an eye on the back door. For safety reasons also, for making sure people are stating what they're doing.

CORLEY: There are no cameras on the outside of the El Quijote Mexican Restaurant on the corner of Clark and Lawrence in Chicago. Inside there are a couple of cameras. Rafael Horta(ph) is the owner's son. He says it has been helpful to have the camera since the restaurant is open 24 hours a day.

RAFAEL HORTA (Restaurant owner's son): This neighbor is was, like, it's getting better now, but it was worse like 10 years ago. So I think it is a good idea for the neighborhoods and the security of the restaurant and all the people.

CORLEY: The head of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Jerry Roper, says no one is against keeping people safe. He says since crime is down in Chicago, the video camera proposal is simply a costly, unfounded mandate.

JERRY ROPER (Chicago Chamber of Commerce): This is a small to medium size business issue that had been in a city where they have seen increased costs, mandates, et cetera, and, you know, in some cases this has to stop.

CORLEY: And then there is the issue of privacy. Whether the city may soon turn into a big brother state watching every step Chicagoans and visitors take. Mayor Daley who likes this video proposal for businesses says there is no need to worry.

RICHARD DALEY (Mayor of Chicago): No, we won't go overboard. We don't go into your bedroom. We don't go into your living room. We don't go into your kitchen. This is all, most of it's on public land as well as land that's being used for a public purpose with the customers coming to and from off the streets.

CORLEY: If the plan goes forward the Chamber of Commerce says they'll push to have it phased in so smaller businesses have time to comply with the measure calling for cameras to watch what is going on in their establishment. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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