THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT


WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?

by by Emma Brown

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Brown, like many other universities, plans to increase the number of surveillance cameras it employs across campus. This is hardly a shocking move. Society's growing reliance on surveillance technology has long been a subject of controversy and, consequently, news coverage. It has appeared in the BDH and the Daily Jolt, and the Modern Culture and Media department even dedicates a class to it, "Publicity and Surveillance." This is in addition to the physical presence of the campus cameras themselves, hundreds of black, spherical reminders watching us from all around campus: outside Faunce, in the V-Dub, in the student health center. You might not always know where they are, but you know that they exist, conscious that your actions are no longer safely confined to the moment.

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Just in case you've managed to remain blissfully unaware, here are some of the figures: In 2001, there were a meagre 60 surveillance cameras dotting the campus. This number increased to 105 in 2003 and grew to 180 by 2006. According to David Cardoza of the Brown DPS, there are approximately 220 cameras today. This most recent increase follows a survey of Brown's security technology conducted by an outside security consulting firm.
The use of security cameras in each individual building is a departmental choice rather than university-wide decision. The Rockefeller, for example, does not feel the need to monitor students' study habits. Security guard Jim Kitteredge told the Independent, "in my 11 years at the Rock, I can only recall one instance of theft," certainly nothing meriting the installation of surveillance. The Sciences library, on the other hand, does use security cameras.
According to Brown's Public Safety Oversight Committee, last March DPS was "in the process of installing new exterior cameras on certain major pathways, streets and intersections surrounding the campus, and will be looking at other areas on campus," concentrating on those "where large groups of people tend to gather." DPS has previously stated that they do not monitor all of the footage all of the time but, rather, refer to it when investigating specific offences.
Although smaller crimes such as theft and vandalism are a more common problem, they are perhaps not the fuel behind this trend. When the proliferation of cameras was last addressed by the Brown student media in 2005 we were still living in a post-September 11th world, where a renewed interest in surveillance was understandable-even welcome. In 2009, however, we are also reeling in a post-Virginia Tech world and the impact of this grave tragedy cannot be overemphasised. It seems that any measure which could possibly prevent such terrible events bears justification.
Brown is by no means the only school to employ surveillance cameras; their presence can be taken for granted at any urban university. Georgetown, University of Pennsylvania and NYU, for example, all invest in filmed security systems. But why are all of these schools spending hundreds of thousands of credit-crunch dollars on surveillance cameras? Brown's surveillance policy states that "the primary goal of the Camera Initiative is to deter crime and assist with criminal investigations." When it comes to petty vandalism and theft, the hope is that these little black spheres will act as scarecrows to the crime world. If this fails, the cameras can also be used as an extra officer on patrol, serving to alert other officers of any suspicious activity while it occurs.
These measures seem to be working: University of Pennsylvania's crime rate has decreased by 32 percent since it began using surveillance cameras. David Cardoza told the Independent, "we have indeed found [CCTV cameras] effective in battling crime...as an investigative tool, but also as deterrent value." Modern technology has finally enabled 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham's idea of the Panopticon to become a reality; fear of police surveillance is causing self-surveillance (and thus self-restraint) among potential criminals. Even According to DPS Chief Mark Porter, CCTV cameras "are critical elements of the Department's overall mission to promote and protect an environment of safety and security on the campus."
But if surveillance cameras are so effective, why are they so controversial? London graffiti artist Banksy is outspoken on the subject: protesting vehemently against the Orwellian "Big Brother Society" created by excessive surveillance, or as he puts it "One Nation Under CCTV." But perhaps this fear surrounding potential infringement of personal liberty is a little outdated. We are all of the YouTube generation, one which seems to prize freedom of information over personal privacy. Both security cameras and Internet activity are ways of recording your actions, of potentially making these actions public, sometimes regardless of your personal intentions or inclinations.
A more current concern is perhaps whether this augmentation is just step one along a slippery slope of privacy invasion. With new developments in technology today, surveillance cameras are no longer just passively recording actions, they are also--literally--commenting on them. Time Magazine reported that in early 2008, the city of London had installed 16 new surveillance cameras "wired for sound" in some of its more problematic east London boroughs, with plans for further expansion. Sadly, it seems surveillance cameras are a necessary precaution; however, we must draw the line somewhere. Imagine having a disembodied voice suddenly declare that you must "put that carton of milk back" in the Ratty; let us hope that this need never become the future of campus security.

Just try to catch EMMA BROWN B'11 stealing milk from the Ratty.