San Jose Police seek private residents' security camera footage for database

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

San Jose PolicePolice in the US city of San Jose, in California, would be able to tap into volunteers' private security cameras under a proposal put forth on Thursday.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the proposal would allow property owners to register their cameras with a new San Jose Police Department database on a voluntary basis.

The San Jose police have said that this isn't about active surveillance, per se; it's more after-the-fact than that.

Rather than sit around looking at what innocent citizens are up to in their neighborhoods, the police said, they'd instead merely rely on the ability to quickly analyze video footage following the occurrence of nearby crimes.

The newspaper described the new surveillance push as the act of a city that's gone from being one of the safest in the US to one with surging crime, including a string of arson fires that burned through the downtown area this month.

Police arrested a man suspected of burning about a dozen buildings by using surveillance videos provided voluntarily by nearby property owners as key evidence, the newspaper reports.

As it now stands, police can ask property owners for surveillance footage, but they have to go knocking on doors one at a time to search for cameras: an onerous job for an understaffed police department.

Under the proposed program, property owners could sign up for a security camera database so that police responding to crimes would see a map of nearby locations with cameras.

With property owners' permission, police would then be able to remotely tap into feeds for digital cameras. Police would still have to get actual tapes from older camera models.

Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sees the threat of police overreach. The newspaper quotes Fakhoury:

To me the really interesting and troublesome part of it is the way we are starting to privatize government surveillance - to enlist private citizens in a way that is kind of unprecedented and could be potentially really dangerous.

Once you give the police unfettered access 24/7, you're relying on them to exercise their restraint.

San Jose certainly wouldn't be the first city in the country to set up such a database.

Other big cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago, along with small towns such as Los Gatos and Monte Sereno in California, have recently launched similar initiatives, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

The police who roll out such initiatives insist that the programs aren't a Big Brother move.

Police aren't sitting around watching live video feeds from people's homes, said Officer Catherine Mann of the Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Department, which started its own security camera database a few months ago.

But San Jose police's actions are in keeping with the trend for US cities to increasingly gobble up data on residents using surveillance technology such as gunshot-detection sensors, license plate readers, data-mining of social media posts for criminal activity, tracking of toll payments when drivers use electronic passes, and even at least one police purchase of a drone in Texas.

In fact, San Jose's neighbor to the north, Oakland, California, has been pushing through what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California has called a program of warrantless surveillance that would enable the city to "collect and stockpile comprehensive information about Oakland residents who have engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever".

Security camera. Image courtesy of ShutterstockFor its part, Oakland took a federal grant of $7 million, originally meant largely to protect its busy seaport, and instead put the money into a police initiative to collect and analyze reams of surveillance data, from gunshot detection sensors in its barrios to the license plate readers mounted on the city's patrol cars.

Alameda County, where Oakland is located, also tried to copy Texas by using homeland security funds to buy a drone, but the plan was shelved after public protest.

All of this went down in spite of the concerns of privacy advocates and citizens.

As it is, critics point out, an $11 million surveillance center, the so-called Domain Awareness Center (DAC), has been pushed through without privacy or data-retention guidelines, in spite of the fact that the center will consolidate a vast network of surveillance data from over 1,000 cameras and sensors pointed at Oakland residents.

But citizens of at least one other US city have had success in stopping police surveillance that ignores privacy issues.

At the behest of more than 4,000 petition-signing citizens, Iowa City politicians in June 2013 were reluctantly forced to ban surveillance from drones, automatic traffic surveillance cameras and license-plate readers - at least, not without a police officer or parking enforcement attendant being there to witness the alleged violation and issue a ticket.

We all want police to be able to protect our peace and our citizens as well as possible, even if departments are understaffed and underbudgeted.

Does that justify a database of video feeds from private citizens?

Do you feel it's a privacy invasion, or do you welcome the beady eyes of a few hundred (or a few thousand, depending on where you live) cameras trained on your movements?

Your input is welcome in the comments section below.

Image of security camera courtesy of Shutterstock.

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13 Responses to San Jose Police seek private residents' security camera footage for database

  1. David Helmink · 613 days ago

    they wanna "rent" my cameras....cut me a check...

  2. A. Pete · 612 days ago

    I have six cameras at my house, two of them HD cameras. I've had both the State Police and the Sheriff's Dept. at my house perusing my videos. In both circumstances (robberies) the suspects were in the video. They came to my house at my request.
    I would like to see the local police start a database of local cams, but for use AFTER THE FACT. I would not agree to give remote access to any of my cameras to be used for police surveillance.

  3. Spryte · 612 days ago

    Use of my camera footage by any other agency would be through a warrant only.
    I am more than happy to co-operate. But you'd spell it out (date and time) and have it signed off.

  4. Tim · 612 days ago

    Recorded surveillance video feed is a historical record of past events. They are put in place by home and business owners as a deterrent so criminals won't commit crimes. But criminals do anyway. Then its a matter of 'time' - for police to track down and arrest the criminal and present him/her to a judge with evidence for a trial. The only people who have a true honest aversion to recordings and their availability to police/prosecutors are the criminals and defense attorneys because they provide a 'smoking gun' they can't talk away. How much quicker could the Boston Bombing suspects have been identified and found if private surveillance video had been available immediately afterwards for police/law enforcement review? How much quicker could serial sexual predators on college campus' and in neigborhoods be identified, tracked and captured if recorded private surveillance video feed could be reviewed immeidately after the 1st occurence? Recorded and stored surveillance from private owners is the Community Watch Program at work. Its just that criminals and their defense attorneys can't intimidate and befuddle technology on a witness stand as they do human witness'.

    • Deramin · 612 days ago

      If the technology was used only as intended, and if the law itself was just and capable of being enforced uniformly, then this argument would be fair. History tells us that every capability we give to any authority will be abused by some member at some time, and abuses are often under prosecuted since authorities often protect their own quite fiercely. History shows us that we are not unbiased in what we see, even on video, and that who you are does determine how likely you are to be perceived as innocent of a crime. And history also tells us that law and justice have often been at odds with each other.

      We need to check power because history tells us our species (with very rare exception) is absolutely awful at handling it. What we want us to do with this power and what we will do with this power are entirely different things.

  5. William Duke · 612 days ago

    I live in San Jose, and have good friends that live in the downtown area that experienced the dread of the arsonist and were fortunately spared for direct damage.
    I'm glad for the private video footage that contributed to the capture of the perpetrator, but ongoingly, I would want it to be something was accessed only as the need arose, and not something that would be available real-time, and especially as there is no regulation of oversight.

    • RocRizzo · 612 days ago

      First they video surveilled the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.

      Then they video surveilled the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

      Then they video surveilled the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.

      Then they video surveilled me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

  6. cgarch · 612 days ago

    Somewhere I heard, a conservative is a liberal that's been mugged. My house was broken into last year and some nice computer equipment and an heirloom ring went missing. They can have all the access they want.

  7. So... if the NSA would have asked nicely, the good people of San Jose would have given them everything they wanted? Nobody cares what your cat is doing while you're at work.

  8. Deramin · 612 days ago

    I agree that there's nothing wrong with a police database of volunteered information of camera owners who may be asked to volunteer footage. That takes away a whole lot of needless, repeated time and energy spent after a crime has been committed. But the police should have to contact those camera owners, present an official form describing exactly what they want, and have it sent to them by the camera owner (digitally, snail-mail, drop it off on a DVD, or whatever). They absolutely should not get digital access to private cameras. They want a camera network, they get a vote from the people and they build it themselves.

    In theory, the US is still a democracy. These are very important questions about the structure and nature of our society. We the people should be being asked what we want rather than having a myriad of various well meaning agencies (with a poor grasp on unintended consequences or corruption) shoving a decision down our throats.

    • Steve · 612 days ago

      Excellent points, with one exception: the U.S. is NOT a democracy, but a constitutional republic. A democracy can be effectively described as two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.

  9. Spork · 612 days ago

    "an onerous job for an understaffed police department", just their job. If they spent less money arming themselves like a Colombian Death Squad, they could afford to hire more people, que no?

  10. haasgruber · 610 days ago

    No, we won't record and save ALL of the data from your cameras we receive 24/7

    Why no, we would never use what we find/see/record on your own cameras against YOU

    "anything you say can, and will be used AGAINST you"

    and apparently anything you do in this case as well

    eventually, every single data collection device, method & database will all be tied directly into one system

    and none of it... is to benefit you

    believe it

    welcome to the luciferian new world order

    peace )

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.