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Cambridge City Council Stops Activation of Surveillance Cameras

02/05/2009 -In the enduring controversy over whether surveillance cameras bring security or erode privacy, the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, recently voted to halt the activation of eight security cameras because the public has yet to be told what precisely the cameras will be used for,reports The Boston Globe.

The cameras are part of a controversial surveillance network designed to link Cambridge with Boston and seven other communities. The cameras were paid for with a $4.6 million grant from the US Department of Homeland Security.

"The City Council is not convinced that the proposed benefits will outweigh the potential risks," said Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons in a telephone interview yesterday. "We don't have enough information about how the cameras would be operated, how they'll be governed, who has access to the data they collect, and how the residents of this city can be assured that the use of these cameras will not be abused. We feel there hasn't been enough public discussion about them."

Police told Simmons that the cameras will be used to monitor traffic on evacuation routes through Cambridge.

Nancy Murray ofMassachusetts' ACLU told the paper that the people haven't been told the pros and cons of surveillance systems.

"Under the circumstances, when there was so little actually known about how they would be used, we felt that it was really important [that] people understood the implications of how this technology could not be fully controlled," she said. "It's potentially liable to all sorts of abuse, from First Amendment rights to demonstrate and hold vigils, to people's privacy rights."

Law enforcement officials argue surveillance cameras help watch over terrorism targets, monitor traffic patterns during emergencies, and help police investigate crimes.