“Big Brother” Is Such A Pejorative Term…How About “Big Uncle?”


A recent Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll of about 700 registered voters in Chicago found that nearly 8 in 10 approve of Mayor Daley’s plan to increase the number of video surveillance devices around the city. “The support cuts across racial and ethnic lines, with 80 percent of white respondents, 77 percent of African-Americans and 83 percent of Hispanics saying they like the cameras” reports the Trib.

According to the Trib, “the city’s surveillance network includes more than 2,000 cameras in such sites as transit stations, streets and public housing complexes. Included are about 100 police devices, featuring flashing blue lights, on utility poles in high-crime areas.”

Now, I’ve written about this before (and even got my post bumped up to the big leagues of Boing Boing, but alas, my 5 seconds of blog-fame have elapsed) but I’m more interested in your opinion.
Whaddya think?
What are the benefits?
What are the risks?
Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
For those that support these kinds of surveillance cameras, I wonder, would you want one in your “backyard?”

7 Comments so far

  1. zed (unregistered) on February 20th, 2006 @ 12:13 pm

    Im not a huge fan of extra surveilance, until there was a conversion van chases a SUV through the backyard fence, tears around the yard and then leaves. Cops too 1/2 hr to arrive and the offending people had too off. The neighboring donut shop just happened to have their cameras out of service.

  2. steven (unregistered) on February 20th, 2006 @ 12:21 pm

    As long as they’re not pointing at anyone’s residence, I don’t have a huge problem with it. They’re not going away anytime soon. But I don’t want one on every corner in the city.

    A few months ago I was driving down Howard, towards Clark, and saw one of these with its blue lights flashing away. It was a bit eerie, cuz you knew something was up, you just didn’t know what…or who…or where. Felt like I had to be a little extra cautious.

  3. nikkos (unregistered) on February 20th, 2006 @ 1:05 pm

    To clarify, the blue lights flash constantly atop these things- the flashing lights don’t necessarily indicate an incident in progress.

  4. Jason Pettus (unregistered) on February 20th, 2006 @ 10:21 pm

    It’s no surprise, I think, that these cameras have so far been very successful; the city has been very smart about these cameras so far, in fact, and have only installed them at intersections where public street crime is very high. As a result, crime around these camera locations has *profoundly* dropped in the last year or two, which has inspired citizens in those neighborhoods to sing the program’s praises. (I, for example, regularly deal with the one next to the Jarvis red-line stop; and I’ve been able to see with my own eyes just how much public street crime has dropped at that intersection because of this new camera.)

    And that’s the problem with such programs, isn’t it? THEY WORK, which makes people embrace them in a really profound way. Of course, the Gestapo worked as well, as far as lowering street crime on the sidewalks of Germany, after the combined disaster of WWI and the Great Depression. And this is the thing we really need to worry about, I think; when such programs actually end up working well, and convinces the general public that censorship and interrogation are actually good for them. A subtle thing, maybe, but something all of us should always be on the lookout for.

  5. nikkos (unregistered) on February 21st, 2006 @ 8:41 am

    In addition to the privacy issues, and while I understand the thinking behind the cameras, what I question is their effectiveness. Sure, crime has dropped at the intersections where cameras have been placed. Does this mean that the crime was prevented or that the criminals simply moved their illegal activities to a corner with no camera?

  6. Ben2 (unregistered) on February 21st, 2006 @ 9:31 am

    I’ve always had qualms about a “big brother” too, but there are 2 key things to remember:

    1) If you are doing nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about.

    2) Privacy in a Public area doesn’t really make sense.

  7. nikkos (unregistered) on February 21st, 2006 @ 11:26 am

    As I stated in my original post:

    “It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself- anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime.”
    1984, George Orwell

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