CCTV in Vancouver’s public spaces? A bad idea.
Every few years, the idea of installing a network of CCTV in public spaces gets raised as a way to deal with crime and public disorder in public spaces. The latest comes today, at City Council, where a motion will be debated by Councillors. Put cameras up, the idea goes, and crime (particularly violent crime) will go away.
One of the key problems with this motion is that it is not supported by evidence. While studies have shown some efficacy of CCTV in selected locations (like parking garages), the overall utility of the technology in public spaces, and for dealing with violent crime, is entirely inconclusive. This, despite the same argument being used to justify massive investments in surveillance infrastructure in some jurisdictions around the world.
The bigger issue though, (beyond cost and lack of evidence that they work), is the impact to the free enjoyment of public space without being monitored. CCTV puts everyone under scrutiny, an unacceptable intrusion into the public life of the city.
To that end, the VPSN Board wrote to City Council to state that we are strongly opposed to the Council Motion under consideration. CCTV Cameras for the Purpose of Public Safety and Deterring and Solving Violent Crime.
The use of CCTV in the fashion described in the motion will be ineffectual and costly. It has the potential to infringe on people’s enjoyment of public spaces – placing all people in these places under the constant surveillance of closed circuit television.
With reference to Part B of the motion, we also note that as recently as 2018, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner wrote to the City Manager to indicate that they were not supportive of the City deploying CCTV on Granville Street. The rationale that then Acting Commissioner Drew McArthur provided is worth revisiting here – as they are clearly applicable to the broader geographic scope envisioned in this motion. Paraphrasing McArthur:
CCTV has not proven effective in deterring violent crime;
The purported benefits of CCTV technology do not justify the loss of privacy;
There are other, less privacy-invasive options that should be explored to support public safety objectives;
CCTV is “not necessary to achieve the goal of deterring property damage and violent crime.” (Reference: Deputy City Manager’s Memo to Council, April 25, 2018).
The VPSN believes that a city that aspires to be livable, vibrant, and equitable does not need to go down the road of surreptitiously watching its citizens. One proven answer to concerns about public safety is to further activate the public realm – putting more eyes, not surveillance cameras, on our streets and public spaces.
Photo by Flickr user Pete (Comedy_Nose)