Questions In Belgium Over Security Do Little To Sway Minds Over Surveillance
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to head to Brussels for a few minutes, where closed-circuit television cameras played a big role in the investigation into last month's suicide attacks in Brussels. Police released images of the suspects, which some credit as helpful in their arrest. It turns out there are hundreds of these cameras all over Brussels. And Belgian attitudes about that, especially about the balance between privacy rights and security, seem to have changed in the weeks since the attacks. Teri Schultz has this report.
TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Marielaure Roux didn't know closed-circuit cameras were tracking her as she browsed at her neighborhood shop in downtown Brussels. Once informed, she was neither surprised nor concerned.
MARIELAURE ROUX: No, I didn't know. I never notice.
SCHULTZ: Until she got out on the street, where she was was surely also being recorded by one of the many cameras visible from the storefront. And then Roux realized she didn't like it.
ROUX: I assess that they are taping us - us all for security reason - that's what they say. You know, they're trying to find out who is good and who is bad. But that does bother me.
SCHULTZ: But it doesn't seem to bother most people in a nation shell-shocked by suicide bombings and the uncovering of a terrorist network right under their noses. And who's filming her on this street is impossible to know because none of the nearby cameras has the legally-required label identifying who's collecting the images.
MANUEL LAMBERT: So this camera is illegal regarding the Belgian law.
SCHULTZ: And does anybody care?
LAMBERT: I don't think so (laughter).
SCHULTZ: Manuel Lambert cares. He's a legal advisor with the Belgian League of Human Rights, which fought the expansion of CCTV throughout the city years ago. But he acknowledges the privacy side lost that battle. Now, Lambert says, very few companies using cameras follow any kind of legal guidelines. Very few citizens pay attention.
LAMBERT: It's become part of the scenery - I mean, it's everywhere, so it's so massive you don't even notice it. But does it mean that you don't have to interrogate its righteousness to be there?
SCHULTZ: Lambert says CCTV does not work to prevent crime, but opposition to surveillance will be in even shorter supply now that it presumably helped catch the terror attack suspects after the fact. However, Alex Pirlot de Corbion with Privacy International says law enforcement's priorities are off.
ALEX PIRLOT DE CORBION: Some of the individuals were - those individuals were actually already being monitored and already targeted. And that's where the focus should've been. And that's very different to calling for broader mass expansive surveillance of the whole population.
SCHULTZ: But Brussels resident Rosa Tot is among those willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt. She lives near the path of the so-called man in the hat walked from the airport attack to town. And she says cameras don't bother her. Seeing terrorism suspects traipsing through her neighborhood does.
ROSA TOT: Last 20 years, it was very, very naive. And we don't have enough security.
SCHULTZ: Brussels metro system has just announced it's speeding up the installation of 2000 more surveillance cameras, crediting them with helping catch the suicide bombing accomplices. For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels.
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