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CCTVs: The illusion of safety at G20

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Professor Andrew Clement is providing Torontonians with a vital service and opening up a discussion on public space, surveillance, illusions of security, and whether the Toronto Police Service will keep its word. Clement is part of a project called G20 Surveillance, which is posting pictures of closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras proliferating around Toronto in the lead up to the G20 meeting.

Hoping to assuage privacy concerns, the Toronto Police have said in more than one news release that the "CCTV security cameras will be removed at the completion of the G20 summit". There are now over 70 surveillance cameras in the downtown core.

I've mused on a few blog posts (in other on-line publications) about the efficacy of surveillance cameras and have noted that the evidence isn't entirely supportive of CCTVs. For example, when it comes to preventing crime, a study of CCTVs in the UK, found that out of 13 areas, "only two showed a statistically significant reduction relative to the control, and in one of these cases the change could be explained by the presence of confounding variables." Further, impulsive crimes (drunken smash fest) were less likely to be reduced than premeditated crime (break and enter).

And the idea of security provided by CCTVs could be little more than an illusion. Welsh and Farrington (2002) found that when respondents knew that CCTVs were installed in their communities, respondents did not have a feeling of security.

CCTVs will not make Toronto "safer", but they have been handy helping to foment a climate of fear.

Having said that, there have been instances where CCTV footage helped to identify people breaking the law or have shed light on how a crime unfolded, but do we need eyes on every corner of downtown Toronto to accompany the fences and platoons of police?

What will Toronto police, the RCMP and other security services do with surveillance footage of demonstrators? Will these cameras remain once the G20 has packed up, the fake lake has been drained, and six kilometers of fence has been removed?

What about our civil liberties and right to privacy? How much do we allow for the erosion of these rights to chase after some illusory sense of safety?

There's a quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin (but he denied writing it) that succinctly sums up the Fortress Toronto: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

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