Monday, October 15, 2007

Get the Facts: Giving Up Privacy Doesn't Make Us Safer

In his monthly newsletter, security expert Bruce Schneier links to a report from the Evening Standard suggesting that London's extensive network of surveillance cameras aren't having much impact on crime.

On the local level here in Washington, D.C., there has been a lot of talk about increased use of cameras as a crime-fighting method. Many people seem to believe that if we have cameras everywhere, we'll be able to more easily convict the guilty and crime will go down because no one wants to be caught on camera.

But apparently that's not happening in London. According to the Standard report:
A comparison of the number of cameras in each London borough with the proportion of crimes solved there found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any.

In fact, four out of five of the boroughs with the most cameras have a record of solving crime that is below average.
Crime frightens us, with good reason. And no politician ever lost votes being anti-crime. Cameras may sound like an easy solution, but they are an intrusion on our privacy. Anytime we give up our right to privacy in exchange for greater security, we need to do it consciously and with real information about whether the system will work.

Giving up privacy for a false sense of security is not a worthwhile trade off. Plus if we believe the cameras are making us safer -- even though they aren't -- we are more likely to be careless about our personal safety.

I plan to bring this report to the attention of my city council member and other local politicians.

By the way, Bruce Schneier is a valuable source of information on security and privacy issues. You can find his blog here and subscribe to his email newsletter here.

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